Cover Story

What if...

...Pervez Musharraf had quit office 6 years earlier than he did?

A speculation By Senator (r) Javed Jabbar | March 2023

As the contingent of soldiers carried the coffin of General Pervez Musharraf to the front of the thousands of civil and military personnel waiting to render namaaz-e-janaza at the Polo ground in Malir Cantonment, Karachi on 7th February 2023 along with the grief that brimmed up to my eyes there was also the wishful thought of a “What if...?”

What if the General had respected the 3-year timeframe granted to him by the Supreme Court in May 2000 to complete military intervention in the political sphere that had begun on 12th October 1999? Would the course of the country’s history be quite different --- and better --- than what it became in 2007 when the lawyers’ movement against him began, and his later exit from office in August 2008? This is to speculate on possibilities. Every reader can let her/his own imagination visualize an alternative future rather than this writer alone conjuring up potential scenarios. Because the times to consider are now past, this exercise may seem pointless and even irrelevant, especially when the main protagonist has passed away.

Yet, to ponder on what could have been, enables one to dwell briefly on the positive actions he actually took soon after replacing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as Chief Executive--- bar the referendum of April 2002, for which he had the grace to apologize later. In the very first year in office, and in his first three years, reformative and forward-looking changes represented how much more he could have done --- if, in this writer’s view, he had left office in 2002, and then come back later.

No interest in early exit options:

Chapter 22 of this writer’s memoir “A General in Particular: Interactions with Pervez Musharraf” published by Paramount Books, 2022, is titled “A political and exit strategy”. This chapter includes the text of the detailed paper that I wrote and provided to him on 9th May 2000 in my then-capacity as Adviser to the Chief Executive on National Affairs and Information and Broadcasting. In that paper, there were options defined to prepare for a stable transition. The fact that the General, despite originally asking me for such a paper never actually got around to discussing with me the choices identified, perhaps revealed his unfortunate lack of genuine interest in promptly leaving the powerful office he had come to occupy.

If the General had respected the original timeline defined by the Supreme Court and retired in October-November 2002 from the position of Chief of Army Staff as well as resigned from the office of President (acquired after the resignation of Rafiq Tarrar in June 2001), he could have devoted the next two years to purposeful public service in multiple ways. But even more, or most significantly, he would have become the first individual in Pakistan’s history to willingly surrender vast powers held by him in both the civil and military spheres. By so doing, he would have set an unprecedented standard of high character and integrity. He would have instilled pride among his fellow citizens about the fact that the nation is capable of producing outstanding persons who could become role models for youth and for future generations, an Army chief who genuinely respected the Supreme Court, and even more, respected the people of Pakistan and their right to have democracy restored at the earliest.

A beneficial 2-year gap:

Why did one say “the next two years” in the previous paragraph? Because, without taking away from the altruistic, unlikely idea of someone willingly giving up immense powers, on completion of the two-year interval mandated by law between ceasing to hold State/Government office and then becoming eligible to enter the political realm, Pervez Musharraf could have lawfully entered the political domain as a private citizen in 2004/5.. Strengthened by his record of credible, visible achievements in the first three years, the former General could have gradually, or even quickly, developed popular mass support --- to pose an attractive alternative to the conventional, corruption-prone, family-dynasty politics offered by the major parties and leaders.

Sceptics about this speculation will rightly ask: “But what about 9/11?” Which occurred during his second year, and turned his head because of how the US began courting him as a vital ally in the “War against Terror”? Certainly, America’s quickly retrieved fondness for military rulers post- 9/11 --- as long as they suited its own interests --- gave him notions of indispensability. Further, somewhat justifiably it could be said that, at a time in history when the invasion of Afghanistan had already taken place, and the invasion of Iraq was unfolding, it would not be in either Pakistan’s or America’s interest to see a change at Pakistan’s helm. But as the record of the world shows, though particular individuals make a crucial difference, it is institutions, and the force and sweep of trends, interests and factors that can sustain a direction, even when Vitally Essential Persons leave the scene, due to unavoidable happenstance. So, if Pervez Musharraf had looked beyond the immediate, to what was far more important, a volitional resignation from offices in October 2002 could have been conducted, regardless of 9/11 --- or no 9/11.

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