Former President Pervaiz Musharaf in a recent interview has said that Pakistan had seen development and progress only in a dictatorship. He held civilian governments responsible for the perpetual crisis that Pakistan is facing since day one. It is easy for the General, a fugitive from the law, to give such statements sitting abroad, away from the national crises dictatorships have had no small part in creating.

The intellectual progression of dictators has not amounted to much in 70 years. The Bengal crisis was exacerbated by the then military dictator Ayub Khan, who once famously remarked, “We must understand that democracy cannot work in a hot climate. To have democracy we must have a cold climate like Britain.” The fall of Dhaka completed in the regime of Yahya Khan. Zia Ul Haq ushered in an era of extremism and sectarianism. One wonders what development and progress he is talking about? Does progress mean muzzling civilian institutions and civilian freedoms, and stabilising the economy on war production and foreign aid? How stable were dictatorships when people were out on the streets protesting and demanding their constitutional rights?

We forget how troubled times were under dictatorships. Political parties were virtually destroyed under Ayub Khan and Zia Ul Haq’s local bodies systems, not to mention our nation tearing itself into half during a dictatorship. It is best that the old general not give such simple-minded statements, lest historical facts be quoted back to him. The former dictator does a disservice to the military that has fought tooth and nail to protect this country, and he colours the institutions as undemocratic and uncaring of civilian sovereignty. Instability is nothing to be feared, it is how our nation will adjust to its constitutions and laws.

“It makes no difference to the population of Pakistan whether the country is being governed by an elected government or by an autocrat, as long as there is progress and prosperity,” were his words. This is a lie. It makes a huge difference. Most Pakistanis would choose their constitutional rights over martial law, and many would like to see democracy prosper, uninterrupted.