Political Jungle: Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto

I have been discussing the future and past of Pakistani politics with a number of Pakistanis lately in London. Before I write anything substantive, I shall make a confession. That is, I am not a Pakistani citizen and more importantly, I have never been to Pakistan. Hence whatever I am writing here is an outsider’s view of Pakistani politics.

Many people argued that with the end of Zia-ul-Haq there would emerge a new and different kind of politics in Pakistan. After Zia, Pakistan voted in Benazir Bhutto and as a result, she began her tenure as the Prime Minister in late 1980’s. Benazir Bhutto had all the credentials to become an exemplary leader of Pakistan. Being a scion of Bhutto family, which has produced a number of political figures, including President and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, she was well known all over Pakistan and coupled with her Oxford-Harvard education she was supposed to be urbane, sophisticated and one who would change the course of Pakistani politics forever. But she turned out to be worse than anyone who has ever ruled Pakistan.

The main problem with Benazir and her first government was that they did not form the government to serve the people of Pakistan. They had no sense of what it means to govern a country. Benazir and her gang’s only purpose was to enrich themselves and as a result, maximize their personal fortunes. It is a pity that Benazir and company were given a platform to improve Pakistan and chart its progress because all they did was to plunder the exchequer. They acted like ordinary thugs. They left behind no legacy, for they had no policies and that is why when they left nobody stood up for them. Benazir and her cabinet proved that they have no integrity or honesty within them to use politics for greater good for the greatest number or to advance any agenda for the people at large.

Benazir did, however, secure the highest position in the pantheon of corrupt politicians. She did well for herself and her cabinet followed suit. The country in the midst of this suffered immeasurably. Majority of Benazir’s party, Pakistan Peoples Party, is made up of feudal thugs who are not only a source of tyranny in their spheres of influence but have also ruined the very foundations of Pakistan.

Then we had the most confusing figure, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who reached the summit of power and became the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Mr. Sharif belongs to the establishment party, the Pakistan Muslim League (of course now he is in his own Muslim League Nawaz) and that is also the party of landed gentry, industrialists (who in reality are no worse than common thieves and the prime example being Nawaz Sharif) and other opportunists who have absorbed every possible drop of blood from their fiefs. His first tenure as the Prime Minister was abysmal and Nawaz Sharif, like his cabinet, had no idea as to how to run a government and he was clearly out of his depth. He had no foundation to become a statesman but he did know how to steal money from the exchequer. His family and other thieves who surround him had the same agenda that Benazir and her cronies had. That is, Nawaz gang did not govern to advance Pakistan in an age where education, security, healthcare, and economic management are pivotal to create opportunities so that millions of people can gain employment and flourish as entrepreneurs. In terms of performance: Nawaz and his cabal were as abysmal as their predecessors. However, they did equal Benazir’s corruption record.

Subsequently: Benazir and Nawaz came back and broke all the records of corruption and in turn built up their assets to a state which is beyond the realm of imagination. There have been bad governments in Pakistan but Benazir and Nawaz are not even worthy of being called leaders, for all they have done is to further their interests. Morally, ethically and politically they are bankrupt. They are a disgrace and don’t deserve to even run a municipal council let alone the country. I challenge anyone to look at their record and explain to me what they stand for.

It is often reminded to us that Benazir has degrees from Harvard and Oxford universities. But what did Benazir do with all the Harvard-Oxford wisdom. Did she establish big or even small centres of learning in Pakistan or open state of the art hospitals across country? No. Did she do anything for the people of Pakistan? No. She did not manage to do one positive thing for Pakistan whilst being the Prime Minister.

As the Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir hardly improved anything. She did not initiate any substantive policy that would bring modernity in Pakistan; but then she could not have done that. She herself is a feudal and married to a feudal, who is a dangerous criminal (Asif Ali Zardari gives criminals a bad name, for they are not as cruel, petty or greedy as Asif Ali Zardari is). Nawaz Sharif is hardly able to talk about anything and hence one cannot have any expectations from him and without doubt he does not have the capability or intelligence to even make the most elementary household decisions. How can modernity come to Pakistan when a great majority of fertile land is still occupied by cruel and treacherous feudal families, who tend to call themselves agriculturists? There has to be a land reform in Pakistan which will end this disgraceful state of affairs. Benazir and Nawaz shared a mutual commitment to perpetuate corruption and did their utmost to further the lawlessness in the country. They had no policies in place to tackle the most basic law and order issues in Pakistan. And they both have the gall to suggest that they want to come back and rule Pakistan. Why? It maybe that they want to further break records with respect to corruption and destroy each and every institution of Pakistan.

Musharraf took over from Nawaz Sharif in 1999 and at that time Sharif and his gang had dug such a hole in the exchequer that bankruptcy of the state of Pakistan was quite probable. This was quite serious. All the leading macroeconomic indicators suggested that Pakistan was a distressed economy and was living on borrowed time. Musharraf’s entry into Pakistani politics was not a surprise for many but it was quite inevitable that the Pakistani army would intervene as the state of the country was such that the civilian rulers had turned on its own people and left the country in a near death state. However, the track record of the Army has not been a distinguished one when it comes to running the country. Army governs every nook and corner of Pakistani life when they establish their reign. For example: a mere retired brigadier or major, gets to oversee important civil institution without having any experience in that particular area or has no idea of what he is expected to do. This is just a general example, which is benign in proportions if compared to ex-Army officers running WAPDA and other civil institutions all over Pakistan. The role of Army is to defend the country when there is a national security issue not to impose their rule on the country. Their place is in the barracks and that is where they should remain. Army officers who run the country are as corrupt as any civilian ruler but it is disgraceful that they get to these high positions for being cronies and sycophants of the President.

The constitution of Pakistan has no sanctity; it is non-existent. Even the civilian governments have desecrated the constitution and treated it in the vilest possible manner but Pakistani people’s electoral choice has to be respected. At the outset of Musharraf’s tenure he had the right ideas for the country. He wanted to bring modernity to Pakistan and establish structures that will lead Pakistan in the 21st century. He wanted to transform Pakistan and bring accountability at every level. Soon he realised that he would like to preserve the political conditions in Pakistan, for he and the Army can benefit from it as well. He has remained in power with his uniform intact and coaxed the ever-present opportunists from the Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan People’s Party to leave their political parties and join him. And they did and the prime examples are: the Choudhary brothers of Gujrat and Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao. Musharraf is at present negotiating with Benazir with respect to next elections and is now willing to bring these thieves and thugs back into the political process. Musharraf installed a person as the Prime Minister who is still unknown to a majority of Pakistani people. Now that is a blatant abuse of power (even though his presence in Pakistani politics can itself be described as an example of abuse of power), for he put in a person as the Prime Minister of Pakistan without the consent of the majority of the public. More importantly, domestically: he failed to curb corruption or even improve the basic living conditions of the Pakistani people. In sum: Musharraf has also failed to create institutions that will matter or implant accountability at every level of governance to eradicate corruption. But he has done worse by turning a blind eye to these issues.

The civil service of Pakistan is equally corrupt and hence the machinery of the government is totally hollow. They have decayed into a collection of people who are in service to maximise their wealth and facilitate corruption within the government. The judiciary of Pakistan is no better. Hence there is rampant corruption on every given level and it is a wonder that Pakistan exists as a nation. How can a nation survive with such level of mismanagement and corruption? It can but the nation as a whole gradually weakens.

Pakistan has been one of the unremitting source of producing horrible to abysmal leaders. We have seen a range of people in government and it is horrifying to know that there actually does not exist any choice in the political process of Pakistan.

9 thoughts on “Political Jungle: Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto

  1. Khuldun, very interesting post. Your understanding of Pakistani politics as an outsider who has never visited the country is exemplary.

    I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say that there is no choice in the political process in Pakistan. There is no choice because all the choices are bad.

    Musharraf might have been the best possible alternative, but he has successfully done what no civilian government may have done in the past. He has permanently damaged the bureucracy. Nepotism has thrived under his rule and the most important civilian posts have been given to armymen not qualified to run those institutions. I believe this would affect the morale of all those working under them, specially the officers who have given a lifetime in an organization to find that they have been superceded by inept retired generals.

  2. Hakim: I agree with you. It is indeed not fair or right for a retired Army officer to run an organisation which is better understood by a person who has worked there all his life. This considerably hurts the industry as a whole and destroys the morale of people who understand the organisation, for they have spent their entire life within its 4 walls. Again, I think you are right and have brought forward an important point. But the question is how long can they do this?

  3. I admire your article Khuldun for its apt understanding of the political process in Pakistan. To hold such firm views despite not being a Pakistani shows that you have extensive knowledge of political structures in my homeland. The lack of political agency is a point which your article implies, especially in the part where you moan the lack of ‘choice’. It is interesting to note how succession of rulers have tried their level best to limit political agency towards an elite few, so that power in concentrated in a few hands, who are then able to hold on to it for long. This is an arrangement that suits all parties involved, albeit at the expense of the common man. Aristotle’s famous saying that “man is essentially a political animal” comes to mind at this point, as it is clear that the masses, despite their clear want to participate in political life are not given any chances whatsoever. Political structures in my country have been formed on the basis of access to resources rather than populist appeal, which does not bode well for the spread of democracy in the region. Such a situation has to be reversed in order to bring about accountability and transparency in the political process, otherwise we are doomed to failure.

  4. Saying ‘there actually does not exist any choice in the political process of Pakistan’ is in itself a self-fulfilling prophesy. Political process evolves on the basis of precedent which is inherent in the continuty of the political process. Political process if allowed to continue without interference has great tendency to rectify. Dissolving parliaments or takeovers by military in fact goes in favour of inept political leaders, they come out as political victims which overshadow their drubbing leadership. In addition, such interruptions lead to fragmented political forces which is an absolute threat to integrity and functioning of the state as it renders instability.

  5. Dear cheema,

    I think you are raising a good point. That is why I wrote the following:

    “The role of Army is to defend the country when there is a national security issue not to impose their rule on the country. Their place is in the barracks and that is where they should remain. Army officers who run the country are as corrupt as any civilian ruler but it is disgraceful that they get to these high positions for being cronies and sycophants of the President.”

    Again, that was a good point.



  6. Cheema: What do you think about fedual context of Pakistani politics? Don’t you think feudalism is as big a hinderance in promoting a fair political process as the army is? It will be good to get your views on this mate. Thanks for the comment mate.



  7. Ladies and Gentlemen, should we turn a different corner?

    As someone of Pakistani origin, it pains me to see the perpetual trials and tribulations my birth country goes through. It is as if Pakistan is like Tantalus, forever grasping for relief from its own private hell. To some reading this that might be a sweeping overstatement, but allow me a minute if you will to elaborate. Essentially, the gist of the following is that, faced with the impasse that we are, maybe checking out is the best option.

    Do you remember that kid in your class, who was only held back by his attention deficit and lack of focus? Well, to me that is what Pakistan is like today. So much potential, yet little corresponding actuate. If Iqbal were walking the streets of Lahore today, perhaps he would wonder where his remonstrations to achieve the best as a nation and as individuals had gone. What is the gift of free will, indeed any gift, if squandered? “Knows not the Gabriel this hue and cry/ He knows not the status of quest and pry./ Then ask the poor man, who is hapless still,/ Who knows the sting and nectar of will.” And if Jinnah were living, perhaps he would not let this be.

    A lot of Pakistanis based in Pakistan, in my experience, come from two opposite poles. At one end of the spectrum, there are those who endeavour hook, line and sinker to ape the Western way of life. But that was not what our forerunners did- Iqbal did not simply copy Goethe and Nietzche verbatim, he took what was good from their musings and left what did not apply to the unique predicament of Muslims living in the first half of the 20th Century. Surely it is wiser to be selective rather than simian. At the other end are the Pakistanis who will argue till the cows come home about how Pakistan is superior in every way compared to the West. What this latter vantage point fails to acknowledge, however, is that Europe’s flexibility to incorporate innovative solutions and proposals to thorny issues often provides some help. This latter group of Pakistanis suppose that life is a zero sum game where there can only be one. Perhaps they would do well to learn without prejudice about other streams of thought and approach.

    Perhaps you, like me, are one of a relatively silent majority in the middle, of Pakistanis who are faced with no viable political saviour or anyone near to that in the Land of the Pure. The generals do not cut it, whilst the Oxford lady who promised so much equally delivered very little- to make no mention of the man who rode the tiger of power until the tiger got sick of being treated like a dog by a besotted and aimless authoritarian. Power is not just a privilege, it is a responsibility. Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you King.

    It seems to me that we are living, as always, in the tide of history. Some of you may wonder why people still discuss Iqbal and Jinnah three score later. Perhaps it is simply an acknowledgement that “history is a continuing dialogue between the present and the past”. However, in Pakistan’s case it seems certain shameless figures have warped the dialogue into a lop-sided self-deceptive, self-laudatory monologue reminiscent of the pigs in Animal Farm.

    For sure, unclean minds mislead the pure. The pure, who will leave for sure, and for whom there is no resting place. But then again, what kind of fool would remain in this cheap guilded cage? It’s as if we have no memory of truth, and at the same time the audience has become so cruel. If there is no choice, and one cannot be created, then maybe voting with our silence, and maybe our feet, is the best protest. Perhaps “we”, the good and the bad sides of Pakistan, are through?

  8. yes, the impact of feudal society on political process is undeniably regressive. Most of us who are products of urban centres often confuse rurual with feudal. We certianly have patches showing feudalistic tendency in Pakistan however it is not pervasive. Feudals have much higher stake to keep the status quo of strong unelected establishment institutions as they are the direct beneficiaries. They certainly get their share in elected instituitions. If we compare both they are more prone to public pressures in democratic institutions. There have been astonishing outcomes of elections in the past, large land owners loosing elections who are later resqued by manipulating results over night. It is not only the land holding which attributes to feudalistic tendencies. there are larger land owners part of the legislature in the UK.

  9. Dear friend i myself belong to à political family Tariq Aziz is my Uncle and i don’t agree with you my friend musharaf was THE best no one can deny it our countery was on 11 corupt country before musharaf bit after him it became 44 corupt country so musharaf was best

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