The end of Pervez Musharraf’s reign as president of Pakistan is not something to celebrate. It has been inevitable for some months that he would have to go, unwillingly, but it is not necessarily going to lead to an improvement in the running of Pakistan’s government, nor in the security of the country and region.
The only justification for a military dictator to take over a country is if he provides better government than the leaders he replaced, and if he later hands the country back to democratic rulers who are better.
Musharraf has done neither. He began by governing the country better with liberalised economic policies, the empowerment of women, and attempts to improve education. But he leaves Pakistan a weaker democracy, with an economy that is failing to weather current international economic problems, and with a dire internal security situation.
The lawless tribal areas on the Afghanistan border have become a hiding place for al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, the strength of militant fundamentalists has increased disastrously in many areas of Pakistan, and the army is losing its authority. Musharraf failed to cope with these problems, partly because he spent too much time pretending to do what America wanted in its “war on terror”, while also pandering to local pressure groups.
Now he is being replaced by the same old feudal and industrial elites who mis-governed the country for most of the 1990s before he took over – Nawaz Sharif, who he ousted 1999, and Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late Benazir Bhutto who was prime minister before Sharif. Together these two politicians form a shaky coalition that has no common philosophy or policies beyond benefiting the politicians involved.
It would have been better if the politicians had linked up with Musharraf in a united government, but that was politically impossible. Consequently, Musharraf has been trying to hold onto office, no doubt fearing what would happen to him if he left. That has given Pakistan months of rudderless government during which the security and economic situations have worsened disastrously.
I believe Musharraf genuinely wanted to do better than the politicians who preceded him but that the problems became too big and, like all dictators, he didn’t know when to bow out.
But don’t follow the euphoria of the Pakistan stock market, where shares rose sharply this morning, and celebrate his going. The only good news is that the uncertainty about what he would do and how he would go has ended.
Mourn instead that another phase of Pakistan’s appalling post-independence politics has ended in a hideous mess, and that those who now lead the country are no better than those who went before and seem ill-equipped to grapple with current crises.