By Karam Singh Sethi
April 6, 2014
Given Pervez Musharraf’s corruption-riddled reign, it is unsurprising the former Pakistani president was indicted on charges of treason last week. He unlawfully sacked the chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court; has a protracted relationship with the Taliban; is even rumored to have orchestrated the infamous Benazir Bhutto assassination; and, during the tail end of his leadership, he declared a state of emergency giving him limitless influence. This doesn’t even skim the surface of his corruption.
Musharraf is by no means the only shameful dictator in Pakistani history. The country, born out of Indian resentment, has been plagued by military impunity from any and all civilian rule dating as far back as independence. To understand the current corrupt political environment, an understanding of the history of its military rule is necessary.
Governor-General Muhammad Jinnah and Prime Minister Liaquat Khan, the first leaders following independence, unified Pakistan around its centrality to the Asian-Muslim world. Over time this objective faded. Following the sudden death of the heads of state came Malik Ghulam Muhammad. Ghulam Muhammad initiated a terrible trend. Under keen political maneuvering, he dissolved the Pakistani Constituent Assembly and Parliament, paving the road for a series of unelected non-politicians. The most prolific of whom was Ayub Khan.
Ayub served as military dictator, by way of coup, from 1958 to 1969, after removing close colleague Iskander Mirza from power. Ayub was a Western trained soldier, served in World War II, and commanded obedience from the public. He cemented three major flaws in Pakistani politics:
Ayub was able to convince U.S. leaders to overlook election rigging and hawkish rhetoric by exaggerating the potential internal threat of anti-American mullahs. Only a robust militarized government could assure U.S. national security be maintained. In the twilight of his administration Ayub, like Musharraf, declared martial law and handed power over to friend and army commander General Yahya Khan.
Given this history, Pakistani politics are painfully cyclical.
The legacy of prideful, insecure male egos vying for control against splintered opposition and specious U.S. relations persists today. These men are the crux of Pakistan’s past and present, but maybe not future.
When presented with the charges, Musharraf, close to tears, clamored he preferred “death to surrender.” His despair suggests the indictment’s turning point in Pakistani history. Never has such a senior leader had to confront his past atrocities in such a public forum.
The assassination attempt on Musharraf’s life Thursday afternoon almost gave him an out and should encourage courts to speed up proceedings. The initial international spotlight gives the magistrate enough confidence to stand firm and purge the corrupt leader. It’s possible the military plague is no longer immune to civilian authority.