Saturday, 20 April 2013

Musharraf's arrest in Pakistan is meaningless

Pervez Musharraf may have been a military dictator, but his arrest in Pakistan is a meaningless sideshow. 

On a crisp December morning almost ten years ago, I dozed in the back of a car as it drove out of a quiet Pakistani petrol station. An hour later, the same station erupted in a chaotic clamour of noise when two suicide bombers drove their cars at President Pervez Musharraf's passing convoy. This was not the first attempt on Musharraf's life by Al Qaeda-linked terrorists. The reason they hated him was clear; Musharraf - who later led the siege against Islamabad's Red Mosque - did not pander to religious extremists, or at least not as much as other Pakistani politicians. 

Not being a paid up member of Al Qaeda hardly means Musharraf was a great president. After all, he seized power in a military coup, having previously masterminded the controversial Kargil War against India. Once in power, he allowed the US to begin its drone strikes - which have to date killed at least 168 Pakistani children - and he did little to resolve Pakistan's endemic problems. 

Yet, claims Musharraf's arrest is a victory for Pakistani democracy are premature. Let's not forget it was 'democracy' which allowed Asif Ali Zardari to replace Musharraf as president. One joke in Pakistan goes that Zardari's nickname, 'Mr 10%', doesn't refer to the percentage of public finances he keeps for himself, but the amount he leaves for the rest of the country. Aside from the accusations of corruption, Zardari belongs to the PPP - a party with a long history of exploiting sectarian tensions for political gain - and over the last five years Pakistan's politicians and judiciary have made no effort to amend the country's discriminatory laws. Instead, the  government has turned a blind eye as Shias, Ahmadis and other religious minorities have been killed at a quicker rate than in any other period in Pakistan's history. The systematic political discrimination against religious minorities is reminiscent of the phrase 'democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch'. 

Still, the real motive behind Musharraf's arrest may have little to do with democracy and everything to do with politics. Pakistani rulers are often keen to imprison their predecessors. In the 1970s, Zia-ul-Haq arrested and eventually executed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Then in the 1990s, Zardari himself was imprisoned following the collapse of his wife's government and in recent times former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been leading calls for Musharraf's incarceration. With three weeks left till Pakistan's elections, Musharraf had no chance of winning anyway, but his arrest will do nothing to solve the country's real problems. @Taalay

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