Some well meaning Pakistanis (along with a much larger numbers of opportunists) continue to defend Musharraf's rule even after the November 3rd Martial Law. I have puzzled over this phenomenon of how people can continue to defend the indefensible (overthrow of an independent judiciary, trashing of the constitution, harsh repression of civil society and a gagging of the media). However, in many e-mails and conversations the remaining support for Musharraf seems to boil down to two connected statements: One, that Musharraf is still somehow the least worst option and second, that for all his mistakes he is sincere about building a better Pakistan.
I finally responded to a friend on why this view is wrong-headed and an incorrect framing of the issues. I have decided to share that response more widely given its potential relevance to a broader group(purging any personal details and after minor editing).
An Open e-mail:
The question of "sincerity" is wholly irrelevant to any discussion of Pakistan's political crisis. I have no idea whether Musharraf, Nawaz, Benazir, Imran or anyone else is sincere or genuinely cares about a better Pakistan. I can claim no special insight for looking into people's hearts to divine their 'true' intentions. The only things that I am able to base my judgments on are observable actions and outcomes geared towards the goals that I embrace. If the actions further these goals then I am supportive of those actions, if not I oppose them. If on balance individual leaders do more to advance these goals than to retard them compared with other political actors then they have my support.
Based on my view above, the fundamental question therefore is this: What are the goals and principles that we support and how is any individual leader measuring up in helping achieve these goals? The goals we should support include first and foremost, the strengthening of civilian state institutions and clear progress toward a rule of law based constitutional democracy ( i.e. an independent judiciary, right of people to elect and throw out their governments via a constitutional process, civilian supremacy over the armed forces and intelligence agencies), growth oriented economic policies with sustained social investments in basic education and health and a free and independent media.
How do I judge Musharraf on performing to these goals? A C- before November 3rd and an F after the second Martial Law. Since November 3rd, Musharraf has showed complete willingness to destroy every last vestige of independent Pakistani institutions for perpetuation of personal power, backed by the barrel of the gun. Even actions he was given credit for prior to November 3rd, such as support of a free media, have seen a complete reversal now when the media has refused to play his tune. Macroeconomic growth (without much trickle down, however) is the only silver lining of his 8 year autocracy but it has come at the price of institutional destruction, deep internal political instability, alarming rise in extremism and persistent US interference in all facets of Pakistan's governance to the point where the US Ambassador is a virtual Viceroy meeting government officials, political leaders, election commission officials and media organizations in trying to rescue a "failed state with nukes".
Musharraf equates his own personal interest with the national interest. National interest cannot be determined by an individual or the military. It can only be arrived at with the people's consent and with institutional checks and balances on the behavior of all political actors, including the military. He has been solely incharge for 8 years as a COAS and President with a rubber stamp parliament since 2002 but what greater measure of his failure to build any stable institutional structure that he still had to decapitate his own system by overthrowing the independent judiciary, shutting down the electronic media and locking up most of moderate civil society all while falsely claiming to have done this in the name of fighting terrorism. Are we supposed to take his word that he is sincere after his rigging a referendum, rigging 2002 elections, breaking promises to take his uniform off twice, letting the most corrupt politicians and feudals off the hook as long as they joined PMLQ or were willing to support him (BB recently, MQM since the beginning) and now unleashing despotic and illegal acts since November 3rd? How is this persistent pattern of tyrannical actions and political corruption consistent with the advance of institutions and a "true democracy"? After eight years of misrule, should we continue to wait for General Musharraf indefinitely to prove his sincerity despite accumulated piles of evidence to the contrary.
As part of Pakistan's educated class, I urge you to support principled positions rooted in institutions not individual saviors however well meaning. Choose long term goals over short termism and don't be easily seduced by facile arguments in favor of the rotten status quo in the name of pragmatism. Join the forces and build the capabilities of the developing Pakistani civil society that will provide a more robust check in the future to all errant rulers. You will see me advocating for the same positions when hopefully the constitution and democracy are restored and military is sent back to the barracks because the long term fight in Pakistan is for institutions and a rule of law based democracy not for individuals, whatever guise they come in. Whoever plays by the rules of the law and constitution deserves support, anybody who doesn't should be opposed. The heroes to look up to in this long term fight are people like Asma Jahangir, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Justice (r) Wajihuddin, Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, Saeeduzaman Siddiqui and others in civil society who have always been in the forefront of this struggle and who have always paid a steep price for standing up for institutions and principle. This is the only way in which Pakistan has a hope of moving forward and overtime evolving a stable and democratically accountable polity.