Operating under a façade of democracy, military regimes have become the most dangerous form of dictatorship. Across the developing world, they have sprouted one-by-one, successfully avoiding external democratic pressures by securing support from Western governments seeking political stability no matter the damages to liberty.
And so goes the story of Pakistan, where, on Sunday, former President Pervez Musharraf made his triumphant return to Karachi. Musharraf may be a capable administrator, but his previous tactics must not be replicated.
“I have come to save Pakistan,” declared Musharraf, surrounded by dozens of police officers sporting Kalashnikovs. It was a theatrical climax to five years of self-imposed exile. Long a disruptive force in Pakistani politics, he has enjoyed a resurgence in the last year, as President Asif Ali Zardari has steadily lost popular support.
The former president fled Pakistan in 2008 on the heels of an impeachment trial. Led by Zardari, the country’s current president and the widower of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s parliament demanded that Musharraf step down or face corruption charges. Initially, Musharraf refused to comply. Two weeks later however, he resigned and departed for London.
The charges against Musharraf — still in effect today — are more severe than most Westerners are accustomed to. Foremost, he has been accused of improper involvement in the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the nation’s first female prime minister and the 2006 targeted-killing Akbar Bugti, former Governor of the Balochistan province, Pakistan’s largest.
But the more potent indictments against Musharraf result from the 1999 military coup d’état that deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who later assisted Musharraf’s ouster in 2008. At the time, Musharraf was serving as the Chief of Army Staff, a position he exploited to lead a military takeover that forcibly imprisoned Sharif. For nearly a decade, he served as de facto dictator with the backing of Western powers, a result of his complicity in the post-9/11 military campaign against the Taliban.
Invariably, he has become among the most polarizing figures in Pakistani politics. The Taliban have placed a bounty on his head, while parliament has vowed to vigorously pursue criminal charges. Musharraf has at least 15 days before risking arrest, but must appear in court before then.
Despite this, Zardari’s People’s Party (PPP) coalition has grown increasingly unpopular in recent months. Unpopular foreign policies, lax support from the country’s business community, and attempts to consolidate power have plagued Zardari, leaving many elated by the prospective of a Musharraf return to power.
Should Musharraf return to prominence in the pseudo-democratic state and avoid the Talibani death squads, he will have the opportunity to revive his battered image. Improvements to the democratic process and legislation to curb violence would be a welcome first-step.