The Musharraf Factor: Leading Pakistan to Inevitable Demise

On October 12, 1999 when the first rumbling of General Parvez Musharraf’s thunder disturbed the moldy Islamabad silence, the holy fools in the press and media–”the people who always support the person at the top and the sitting regime–”predicted that the new dictator would rule for at least seven years. They assured anyone interested in listening that Musharraf was a God-sent figure. He miraculously survived an attempt to crash his plane, he was bold, and he stood up to criticisms at home as well as attacks from the Commonwealth, European Union and America.

These were the signs that everyone had searched for in previous leaders, but their approach to governance and obsequiousness to foreign powers was supine. The unusual courage, the ability to speak powerfully, and his radical actions, gave the new General a mystical aura. Writing about General Musharraf–”who he was, where he came from, what he was after, where he was heading, and what was his personal stake, became just as intriguing as trying to figure out what Pakistan’s future would be.

On October 17, 1999, Musharraf told the nation: "Our aims and objectives shall be: No. 1- rebuild national confidence and morale; No. 2 – strengthen federation, remove inter-provincial disharmony and restore national cohesion; No. 3 – revive [the] economy and restore investors’ confidence; No. 4 – ensure law and order and dispense speedy justice; No. 5 – depoliticize state institutions; No. 6 – devolution of power to the grassroots level; and lastly, No. 7 – ensure swift … accountability."[1]

More than six years down the road corruption still exists, just as it did under the other governments of the past. Corrupt politicians, whom even Musharraf threw in jail, thrive under his wings. Musharraf’s Interior Minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, is an example, which shows these figures are now more well-off than before. Opportunists from both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League Nawaz group blossomed with new fervor.

Oppressive poverty still exists despite the much-vaunted poverty alleviation initiatives, many funding opportunities and an end to nuclear program related sanctions. If the present trend of inflation and unemployment continue, the situation will soon reach to the level of mass starvation for the poorest. The richest military, on the other hand, has taken land grabs and usurpation of power in civil institutions to a climax.2 People are more angry and hungry than they were before Musharraf’s reign,[3] yet they can hardly raise a voice. Any dissident can now be conveniently labeled as Al-Qaeda sympathizer the moment the regime decides to silence him.

Apparently, Pakistan’s problem doesn’t seem serious enough to trigger an institutional collapse and the state’s breakdown. Nevertheless, there is an indescribable unease among the masses. Some analysts, quoting CIA reports, have expressed concern that Pakistan may not survive past 2015.[4]

Besides the issues raised by the CIA and others, the debate about the causes of Pakistan’s predicted failure revolves around two factors in particular: the leadership factor and the collective factor of the nation’s attitude. The blame for the failure goes around; some are holding all leaders responsible for their self-centered approach, while others blame the nation for its excessive greed and submissiveness. A parallel debate is underway about Musharraf’s transformed role since 9/11. One side argues that he saved Pakistan, whereas the other claims, Musharraf is culminating the more than fifty-eight years’ of aimlessness of the nation into total disaster.

Many people are trying to find out if Musharraf is really putting the final nail in the coffin of a nation that has been half dead for a long time. Apparently, Musharraf is no different from Generals Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan before him, who both were "liberal" in their attitude, and thought of the US as a "friend." So what has gone wrong? It is that the US has changed its ways or has the General crossed all limits of surrendering in his compulsive pre-occupation with seeking more legitimacy and continuity? But any dictator would feel such anxiety. Musharraf is not an exception to this rule. Apparently, there seems no reason to believe that his moves would undermine Pakistan.

One may ask, how the nation can be responsible for Pakistan’s troubles when the general perception is that the nation hates Musharraf, even calls him a traitor. Moreover, it is nowhere evident that Musharraf is breaking up the state or that there are signs of a situation similar to 1971 under General Yahya Khan, which led to the disintegration of Pakistan. At this point, some analysts argue that unlike his military predecessors, he has become more like Mikhail Gorbachev, who did not want a breakup of the Soviet Union. He only wanted ‘glasnost’. Musharraf also didn’t want to put Pakistan at stake after 9/11, but probably could not understand that the journey he just embarked upon will, in fact, end up in bringing about unimaginable turmoil in the region.

With strong "constitutional," military and American backing, it makes little sense to predict that Musharraf will soon feel more isolated within Pakistan and will be left to the whims of the Pentagon, the CIA and the intrigues of the US State Department. He will be thrown to the wolves as a liability once he outlives his utility–”much like General Zia ul Haq and other American backed dictators in various countries, who were no longer needed by the US.

Many analysts believe that despite the apparent problem with his moves, Musharraf has good intentions for Pakistan. Unfortunately, however, like Gorbachev, he ends up compromising whatever he sets out to defend. He made the US occupation of Afghanistan possible on the plea of national interest: a) security of Pakistan’s Northern frontier; b) security of the nuclear deterrent; and c) security of Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. The question that begs in-depth response is: why it is so that he continues to try hard but his efforts always end up in failure; such as:

–There is no security within or outside Pakistan. India is entrenched in Afghanistan and is a friend of Iran, leaving Pakistan surrounded by those who consider it a threat to their security and stability.

–Most Kashmiris and their sympathizers feel abandoned, thinking that their rights have been bartered for the continuation of Musharraf’s presidency.

–His way of dealing with the nuclear proliferation issue is considered as effectively pleading guilty to criminal proliferation.

–His actions in the Tribal areas in two provinces are perceived as his declaration of war on his own people.

A study of the politics of leadership and a nation’s groping in the dark cannot simultaneously be a study of everything else, although authors criticizing Musharraf’s policies and actions tend to be accused (sometimes justly, sometimes not) of ignoring or playing down the importance of available options to him. This work focuses on Musharraf as a factor with distinct contributions to political change in Pakistan and in the world in general.

Musharraf’s distinctive contributions to politics lead some analysts to compare him to General Charles de Gaulle. In fact, in one of his interviews with the New York Times, General Musharraf said, "How did General de Gaulle continue in uniform all through his period as president of France, and France is a democratic country?"[5] Earlier, the BBC had compared Musharraf’s approach to that of General de Gaulle.[6] In fact, General Musharraf’s comparison with General de Gaulle does not fit well.

General de Gaulle did not come to power through a coup d’etat by an army chief in a country where coups were a common occurrence. In fact, when he assumed power in 1958, de Gaulle was not a general, commanding French forces at all. He was a national hero in retirement. Many analysts were quick in dismissing Musharraf’s comparison with de Gaulle. Unlike Musharraf, as president of France, de Gaulle followed an independent foreign policy, often to the great annoyance of the US. He established relations with Communist China when it was not fashionable amongst the western powers to do so. He opposed the Vietnam War and took France out of NATO’s integrated military command. He was very prickly about French honor and dignity.

We will see in the chapters to follow that Musharraf’s actions are much more similar to what Gorbachev did in the former Soviet Union. The disintegration of the USSR really started in the Baltic republics. However, what happened there was only a consequence, as a running nose accompanies a cold. The cold should have been treated, but not the nose. The real illness was in Moscow, in the country’s leadership, in Gorbachev’s surroundings and in the structures of the Russian Soviet Federation Socialist Republic, that started to fight for Russia’s sovereignty. What was in the country’s outskirts–”in the Baltic Republics, in Georgia, in Moldavia, in Ukraine–”was serious enough, but would not in itself lead to the dissolution of the giant.

This book examines whether the nation and leaders in Pakistan have abandoned the objective for which the state was established, and what role is Musharraf actually playing as a major factor in the overall equation. What we see in the form of the lack of economic, political and social development are just symptoms of the existing socio-political and economic order. The question is: what is wrong with this order and is there any initiative in order to address the root problem? If not, is the problem severe enough to lead to the demise of Pakistan? Most importantly, what are the factors which lead CIA and others to predict Pakistan’s failure and what factors can actually lead to the demise of Pakistan?

Musharraf is the main factor that can break or make Pakistan. We need here to assess whether Musharraf acts like Gorbachev and fundamentally misunderstands the implications of his own actions; if he is acting under pressure, or he acts as he actually believes. Gorbachev did not understand the lessons of Nikita Khrushchev’s attempt to de-Stalinize the Soviet Union in the 1953-1964 period. Like Gorbachev, Khrushchev also made efforts to liberalize the Soviet system, but, unlike his later successor, he ultimately backtracked on reform. While Gorbachev believed that an authoritarian power could exist without tight controls, Khrushchev recognized the consequences of his agenda. According to the editor of Front Page magazine, Jamie Glazov:

"Gorbachev’s moderation inflicted lethal self-destructive blows on the Soviet bloc. Once Moscow ended its total and intrusive control of its satellites, it basically signed its own death warrant. Once the regime allowed free discussion, it committed political suicide. Gorbachev was a tragic figure because his goals and beliefs were incompatible. He hoped to make communism work, but in that effort, it became necessary for him to free himself from Marxist ideology. He sought to de-Stalinize, yet he could not do so without dismantling the regime to which he owed his position."[7]

In the following chapters, we will try to find out if exactly the same is happening in Pakistan under General Musharraf. If it is happening, why is it not generally recognized?

Some analysts argue that once Musharraf ignored the Islamic identity of Pakistan and allowed the misnomer "enlightened moderation" and the "war on terrorism," the regime literally signed a death warrant for the country. The opposing camp argues that this approach has saved Pakistan from "Talibanization" and Indian and US aggression against it.

Undoubtedly, Musharraf wants to sustain Pakistan. For that he cooperates with the US to save it from direct military attack. However, there is no systematic study available to show that in the process he has actually undermined the very soul of Pakistan. Accusations abound. The self-proclaimed custodians of Islam accuse Musharraf of selling the very identity of his nation for perpetuating himself in power. He wants to secularize the state, yet he cannot do so without dismantling Pakistan’s raison d’être.

On the other hand, proponents of secularism argue that Islam is considered as raison d’être of Pakistan, but that was not the objective of the founding fathers in the first place. In this regard, besides assessing Musharraf’s "enlightened moderation," this work attempts to find out if he continues to make some mistakes that can really undermine Pakistan. No doubt, his maneuvering between the Scylla of a totalitarian regime and the Charybdis of democratic ideas is far from irreproachable. No doubt he listens to and trusts the wrong people; no doubt his hearing and sight may be dulled by the enormous pressure, but are his mistakes so crude and irreversible to lead Pakistan towards a demise, or his opponents believe so because in a country not accustomed to the ruler’s accountability, not even for surrendering Pakistan’s sovereignty and independence, shamanism has always been a trait of the Pakistani national character? They cough and infect everyone around them, but when they all get sick, they throw stones at the shaman because his spells didn’t work.

If shaman’s intentions are good, then there is only one factor that can surely lead to the demise of Pakistan. That factor is the environment in which any positive development that can put Pakistan on the right track becomes impossible. In this work, we will examine whether certain positive developments are still possible under Musharraf’s policies and approach. If not, will it trigger Pakistan’s demise?

The first chapter of this book assesses Musharraf’s doctrine to see the impact of his words and deeds on state policies and the overall political environment in the country. Particularly, it looks into his "strategy" of "enlightened moderation," its roots, definitions and its different meanings to different people.

The second chapter examines whether achieving the objective behind Pakistan’s creation is still possible. Due to political squabbling and the changing strategies of religious political parties, the mass movement towards the objective of Pakistan seems to have completely lost its strength and momentum. Religious parties have exploited mass support in the form of demonstrating street power only to achieve lesser objectives. In the past, the religious parties received substantial support from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, who are now burying the evidence of this cooperation. The US is posing as if it had never pumped millions of dollars into the coffers of religious parties when their services were needed for overthrowing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in mid 70s and for the US-sponsored Jihad in Afghanistan. The way the present regime manipulated an alliance of the religious parties (MMA) and the way these parties are deluding all those who are struggling for Muslim’s self-determination, it seems these parties may never achieve the stated objective. We need to examine whether or not it is possible that the present approach of the religious parties will ever transform Pakistan into the once-desired Islamic State.

Chapter 3 looks at the possibility of full restoration of democratic rule and the efficient rebuilding of the Pakistani State. Although most Pakistanis in the military and civilian establishments are formally committed to the restoration of democracy, many are also uncomfortable with the idea of mass democratic politics. Like anywhere else, in Pakistan, democracy is a vocation of the rich and influential. On the issue of democracy, Pakistan may be somewhat better than many Arab states, but far behind the thoroughly politicized and democratized India or Sri Lanka, and even behind Bangladesh. The question we ask is: Has situation in Pakistan deteriorated to the extent that a truly democratic state is unlikely to emerge? As the US has pinned all its hopes in the military, training it on how to remain loyal and committed to the country’s gradual secularization, the hopes of many people are fading away. The United States’ lack of trust in politicians and the military’s self-interest prevent the army from giving the politicians a free hand. The politicians are so insecure and corrupt that they instinctively turn to the armed forces for political support. In chapter 3 we assess the role of the Musharraf factor on the future of democracy in Pakistan, a state that continues to hover on the edge of a sham democracy.

Chapter 4 assesses the state of collective helplessness and the possibility of any ray of hope in an environment in which many have come to conclude that they are living under a Pak-military led occupation of Pakistan. Various outside actors are challenging the legitimacy of the state. Internally, Pakistan is in the ambivalent position of having an army that can neither govern nor allow civilians to rule. The army itself is established on the foundation of Iman (Faith), Taqwa (fear of Allah) and Jihad fee sabeelillah (Jihad in the cause of Allah). It is an inherently Islamic institution. What we need to assess is what has become of this Islamic army in a state, which the commander in chief is not ready to accept as an Islamic State? Is the army still following the motto of Iman, Taqwa and Jihad fee Sabeelillah under General Musharraf who profess admiration for Mustafa Ataturk, who was staunchly secular and anti-Islam to the point of fanaticism? Insiders are of the view that only a few of his colleagues share his enthusiasm for militant secularism, which makes radical change inconceivable. This complicates assessing the future. Nevertheless, the potential for polarization is enormous.

Throughout the book, we will try to find out if there is any sign of the emergence of a revolutionary or radical political movement. Pakistan never had a truly leftist political movement; the hostility of the landowners, their alliance with the United States, the dominance of the army, and the Lassez-faire attitude of most Pakistanis enfeebled the left. Pakistan came closest to a radical political movement with the socialist government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who believed that only a populist movement could counter the army’s power. There are no signs that such a leftist movement could be repeated in the future. If the present experiment with a mixed military/civilian dictatorship should collapse, an increase in the appetite for pure authoritarianism is more likely. The same is the case with religious organizations. None is in a position of bringing a revolution or capable of undertaking small steps that could lead to a revolution in the future. Small steps by Musharraf’s regime, such as changes in the school curriculum, are good enough to close the doors on any possibility of a movement that would challenge the status quo.

One can be Hercules and clean the Augean stable. One can be Atlas and hold up the heavenly vault. But no one has ever succeeded in combining the two roles. Musharraf promised a surgery as he was required. He was expected to clean the Augean stable, not to undermine Pakistan. That’s why angry shouts break out whenever he reaches for the scalpel but he ignores them, believing in his approach and thinking his survival lies in the hands of his foreign backers.

Musharraf is fed with the misconception that he is a Philippine healer who could remove a tumor without blood or incisions. Unfortunately, he is not a Philippine healer. At the same time, what has been identified as a tumor by his foreign advisors could be the only justification for the existence of Pakistan. In the following chapters we will analyze all relevant factors in order to determine if there is still any ray of hope and any possibility that a positive development can take root and save Pakistan from an impending demise.


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