My Soul for My Kingdom

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai, UAE

What luck for rulers that men do not think, said Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer should know. After all, he proved himself a successful, if rather reviled, leader of men and went on to conquer half of the world.

Successive rulers of Islamic Republic of Pakistan seem to have been driven by this cynical piece of wisdom. They come to power with the noblest of intentions and promises but always end up as the prisoners of their own delusions of grandeur.

The great Greek philosopher-playwright Sophocles had warned the rulers and leaders against hubris, the fatal flaw that eventually destroys all heroes. From Caesar to Alexander to the Pharaohs, this is the giant killer that ultimately fell the mightiest of men.

In the case of Pakistan, and many other Muslim countries, this has been the norm, rather than the exception. Almost everyone who has been chosen for the onerous responsibility of leading the first country that was created in the name of Islam has done everything to discredit Jinnah’s Utopia as well as the noble name of the great faith.

Whether men in khaki or feudal politicos in civvies, they have all ended up mistaking this country for their fiefdom and their own selves as God’s gift to humanity.

We all thought somehow Musharraf would be different from the lot. Not because he was a soldier. Not even because he was one of the mohajirs, the people who migrated to the present Pakistan from other parts of India across a river of blood and making incalculable personal sacrifices.

Most Pakistanis, and rest of the world, celebrated when Musharraf came to power. Unlike the tyrants in the past, this mustachioed General born in Delhi and brought up in Ankara did not usurp power. Rather it was thrust on him, thanks to the highhandedness of elected politicians.

And the General indeed offered a refreshing contrast with the corrupt political lot with the two elitist leading parties taking turns to loot the country.

From cracking down on all-round corruption to reviving and rejuvenating country’s listless economy, the former commando launched himself on an ambitious mission to put Pakistan back on the track with the zeal of a neo believer. And he succeeded to a large extent in restoring the confidence of Pakistani people and the world in the country of 170 million people.

But the one single contribution for which Musharraf would be and should be long remembered is what he did for peace and reconciliation between India and Pakistan.

If the Indians and Pakistanis are today freely travelling between the two countries and the two nuclear-armed neighbours are not locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball conflict as in the past, the credit should largely go to the General.

Ironically enough, the man described as the architect of the Kargil war against India is also responsible for the biggest peace offensive in recent history.

The ties between India and Pakistan are at their best today. And for this people like us who have loved ones and close friends on both sides of the border would always remain indebted to the General.

Which is why it is rather tragic that Musharraf has had to go the way he has. But like most dictators tend to do, he had come to regard himself as indispensable to his country. And as is generally the case with the men in khaki, the General did not know when to quit.

Even if Musharraf had accidentally come to power, thanks to the abuse of power by his former boss Nawaz Sharif, and even though he had steered Pakistan out of troubled waters, he had long overstayed his welcome. According to his own promises, his sell-by date should have been December 31, 2005. As the Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie puts it, everyone but Musharraf saw the writing on the wall that it was time for him to go. And by doing so he squandered all that he had achieved for Pakistan in initial years. So if anyone is responsible for undermining Musharraf’s legacy, it is the General himself.

Watching his rambling, last address to the nation, you had this uneasy feeling that here was someone who genuinely believed he was the Chosen One, the Messiah of the Land of the Pure. And he really pitied the idiots who were trying to dislodge him, preventing him from performing his divine duties for Pakistan and his mission of Enlightened Moderation for the Muslim world.

Listing his achievements over the past nine years as though before a prospective employer, the General clearly saw his departure as a catastrophe for Pakistan. In the make-believe world of power, clearly there was no place for ephemeral things like reality.

Perhaps, Musharraf could have gone on and hung on in there for some more time, if only he had not so enthusiastically enlisted Pakistan in Bush’s war.

Maybe our man had no option but jump on the neocon bandwagon when Colin Powell made that rather persuasive call on a cold day in September, the day the greatest military power on the earth was shaken to its roots. Maybe it has spared Pakistan the fate of Afghanistan and brought it billions in US aid. But what the country has lost by joining this disastrous war is much more than what it has gained.

Thousands of innocents have paid with their lives for the Bush-Mush war. And God only knows how many individuals like Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the MIT-educated scientist, have simply disappeared into the nameless gulags around the world.

And the whole country, coupled with Afghanistan, has been transformed into a vast battlefield; the main front of the war that, we are reassured, is being fought for the promotion of Democracy and Human Freedom, whatever that means.

I don’t know if all this happened with the explicit knowledge and blessings of Musharraf. But like Faust, he did sell his soul in return for power. As in Greek tragedies, this turned out to be the fatal flaw in our hero.

And it’s this war on innocents that ultimately brought Musharraf down. As the undisputed leader of the country that was meant to be the citadel of Islam, he cannot escape the responsibility and accountability for all this. All of us are held to account one day. Some day. If not here, somewhere else! Musharraf’s successors would do well to remember this. And learn from his fate.

– Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. He is a regular contributor to Contact him at:

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