Pervez Musharraf visits Seattle
Pakistan’s former President and military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf visited Seattle on invitation of World Affairs council and came to Seattle (Bellevue) on Sunday night as a special guest of the Pakistan Association at a $100 a plate dinner ($1000 per plate if you sat at the special front tables).
I decided to attend at the last minute amid lots of controversy; there were people accusing Musharraf of major human rights violations and there were people who were glowing in their praise for him. I was among those who accepted him in spite of his many faults because so far, he has been the best leader Pakistan has had since civilian government was first overthrown in 1956.
The big question is, should a public embrace, accept or tolerate, a leader who imposes himself on the people?
Is it ever okay to have a dictatorship?
While the answers may appear to be simple, they really are very difficult, especially in countries like Pakistan where the system has been so contorted by the mixing of feudal, tribal and dictatorial systems, that even the concept of “democracy” is like an out-of-body experience; Adult Franchise sounds like a foreign dirty movie corporation rather than people power.
Pakistan was formed out of a conglomeration of tribal and feudal systems in which, while people were not slaves, they certainly lived like them and to a large degree, still do. Most visitors go to cities and don’t see any evidence of these restrictive rules, but most Pakistanis live outside cities, in tribal regions and rural settings where illiteracy is overwhelming and social services almost non-existent.
People who work in large plantations and farms or, in rural industry are indentured without the formal paperwork or, have lived there for so long that they have no concept of “freedom”; they and their children are doomed to live out their lives, working for the landlord or the industry owner (e.g., brick factories). In Tribal settings, the entire tribe follows the instructions of the tribal chief who is the man making all the money while permitting tiny amounts to trickle down to the people. Thus, when it is time to vote, the tribal or feudal lord tells the people who to vote for and almost everybody votes for that person.
South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) also lend themselves to hero worship; once a hero is created, s-he and all their successors inherit the same laurels and continue to be adored by the people who neither care nor think about the eligibility of the individual they are voting for. After the overthrow if Pakistan’s first dictator, General Ayub Khan in 1970, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was elected largely because of his charismatic personality and because he was seen as a person who was not “owned” by the landed interests.
Unfortunately, he WAS “the landed interests”…he was a feudal lord and assumed all the arrogance and self worship that such a position involved. Bhutto led Pakistan with his Pakistan Peoples Party, into the civil war of Bangladesh Liberation and the genocide it entailed…all because he did not want to cede power to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bengali who had actually won the 1971 general election.
After the breakup of Pakistan, Bhutto ruled as an adored leader of (West) Pakistan until he was overthrown by the next General-in-waiting (impatiently), Zia ur Rahman and hanged in a kangaroo court trial set up by the general but the aura of Bhutto survived. Before being deposed, Bhutto, pandering to religious extremists, opened the door for religious intolerance by declaring the Ahmediyya as non-Muslims. Zia removed the door altogether and wnet further by kicking the entire wall away; the religious extremists had a field day with Zia allowing more and more restrictive interpretations of Islam, to define law for the country.
Zia was eventually killed by a bomb hidden in his aircraft inside a crate of mangos and civilian government returned with ZA Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto whose short-lived but highly corrupt government was inept and good only at opening doors of opportunity for major graft and bribery…her own husband Asif Ali Zardari (both from Feudal families) became known as “Mr. Ten Percent” because his hand was present in almost every large transaction in the country.
Benazir Bhutto’s government was itself overthrown by shifting political alliances and in came Nawaz Sharif (also a feudal lord) who gave new meaning to the term, “corrupt”…and was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf.
Benazir was allowed to return to Pakistan to run for elections, but was assassinated on December 27, 2009, shortly after she arrived. Her husband Asif Zardari immediately set their son Bilawal Zardari as the new chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (inheriting his mothers position) AND by changing Bilawal’s name to Bilawal Zardari BHUTTO, just to make sure people did not forget that Bilawal was the grandson of Zufiqar Ali Bhutto. In the meantime, Asif Zardari assumed the mantle of the Bhutto legacy and ran for elections and won the office of President of Pakistan, where he sits right now.
Between Zardari, his son Bilawal and Nawaz Sharif, it certainly does not look like Pakistan will be rid of the endemic corruption that threatens the life and existence of the country.
Back the the dinner.
As I arrived at the Bellevue Westin hotel, I saw about 50-100 people thronged outside with placards denouncing Musharraf. I drove inside, parked my car and before going upstairs to the ballroom, I decided to go outside to meet the demonstrators, many of whom, were my friends. We greeted each other, some were happy to see me because they thought I had come to join them, but when they realized I was going inside to attend the dinner, they were somewhat shocked. Nevertheless, we remained friendly. after a short while, I decided to go inside because the event was slated to start at 6:00 p.m. and I did not wish to be late; I need not have worried, any event where Pakistanis are involved, is not likely to start on time and this one was no exception.
I went inside and stood in line to be searched and cleared and finally went inside to a rather empty ballroom and my heart sank; I did not want the efforts of the Pakistan Association to have been unsuccessful…not to worry, by 6:30 p.m. the entire ballroom was full to capacity that I estimated to be around 350-400 people.
While we waited I heard a man complain about the demonstrators outside and voice some negative sentiments about them. I got his attention and said, “I want you to remember that long after Musharraf is gone and maybe even forgotten, the people outside and the people inside, will still be here; we must not lose each other simply because of partisan politics“. I hope he and the others listening, understood.
Musharraf arrived amid great applause and was glowingly introduced before he rose to speak.
Musharraf gave a very good speech in which he outlined many of his accomplishments, largely in the economy of Pakistan. The ones I liked best were the ones in which he said he had not only made sure there were reserved seats for women and religious minorities, but that religious minorities would be able to vote for all seats thus, making them an important constituency for Muslim politicians as well. He reiterated his opinion that while Pakistan was created for Muslims, it did not mean that the rights of religious minorities should be in any way made less.
He spoke of how important peace between India and Pakistan is and pointed out that while he is a “fighter”, he also knows the heavy cost of war, the miseries and pain war causes. He said for peace to prevail between the two countries, the leadership must be ready to grasp the fleeting opportunities that come and are gone very quickly, the leadership must be willing to make peace and to take as well as to give and they must be bold so they can make decisions that will not be popular. He mentioned that he was making good headway towards a lasting peace with India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but the process took long and Vajpayee left and Musharraf had to start all over again with the new Prime minister Manmohan Singh and they were making good headway when Musharraf left! Now the leaders will have to make decisions and move with speed if they want to reach any accords.
It was also clear in his speech and in his responses to questions, that he was in complete denial about the things that had gone wrong while he was leading the country. I asked him how he thought Pakistan should tackle the issue of corruption which was so endemic that it threatened the very existence of Pakistan and had spread into every aspect of Pakistan from civilian to military.
He seemed to accept the basis of my question but took a strong exception to my including the military as being affected by corruption, “Give me one example of military corruption, this is just not true!”
I did not wish to engage him at the time but of course, anyone who knows anything about Pakistan, also knows that the military has been corrupted a long time ago…right from the time Gen. Ayub Khan took over the country back in 1958. The problem these days, is finding honest people at the lead in military and civilian fields of Pakistan.
Another person stood up and asked about the people in Pakistan who had been disappeared since the time of his office to which he responded with a surprising denial, “There are no missing people in Pakistan, everyone single person who is reported missing has either gone to Afghanistan or Kashmir, to join the fighting there, but their families do not know about it”.
This was astounding. I had hoped he would have acknowledged that people had disappeared but that it was due to rogue actions etc., etc., but he completely denied there were ANY disappeared people when people in Pakistan are fully aware of MANY disappeared people, some of whom were taken in broad daylight, by Police forces.
There were also a number of puffball questions, some of which made us smile and some of which made us wonder…”Why not give Kashmir to India, declare Pakistan a secular state and continue to do good with the money we would save in not fighting?”
Clearly, the questioner is a person who does not understand the crucial role of Kashmir in the very existence of Pakistan; Pakistan can live with an independent Kashmir…quite happily. But Pakistan cannot survive if Kashmir were to be included in India. I have a rather lengthy explanation for this, which I will spear the reader right now.
We adjourned for dinner and Musharraf left shortly afterwards while the rest of the people hobnobbed with each other before leaving for their own homes.
Left unanswered were some of the toughest questions that Pakistan and Pakistanis have yet to answer:
- Is it better to have a dictator or to have failed democracies?
- Should the nation suffer corrupt leaders or autocratic ones?
- How do Pakistanis work to get honest AND competent leadership?