Politics is an activity that inevitably holds a considerable amount of attraction for narcissists. After all, it takes a certain amount of self-belief to believe that you, as an individual, possess the talents and gifts required to successfully lead a country that is home to tens of millions of people and the often complex problems that they face. The kind of messianic view of oneself required to engage in such thinking is perhaps most pronounced in dictators and those with a penchant for centralizing power through authoritarian means; there are a number of strategic reasons why it makes sense for dictators to be wary of sharing power with others (not least of which is the fact that doing so undermines the very point of being a dictator), but it is also undeniable that many dictators act the way they do precisely because they are completely and utterly in thrall to the idea that they are best suited to running the affairs of their countries.

General Pervez Musharraf was no exception to this tendency. Throughout his tenure, and even now when he speaks and writes about Pakistan from exile, the one thing that is perhaps most striking about his interventions is the extent to which he personally takes credit for what he views as the ‘achievements’ of his years in power. Musharraf comes across as a man who is entirely in love with his own legend, uncritically buying into the notion, undoubtedly perpetuated by sycophants past and present, that his almost ten years in power represented a shining period of peace and prosperity sandwiched between decades of dysfunctional democratic rule. To this day, it is difficult to come across Musharraf admitting that he might have made mistakes when he ruled Pakistan, let alone express any regret or remorse for them.

When General Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan on the 3rd of November 2007, he probably did so with the belief that he would be able to weather the storm that had been brewing against him. Like many other dictators in history, Musharraf’s confidence in the power of repression proved to be misplaced, as the arrests of thousands of activists and intellectuals only served to further radicalize the forces arrayed against him. It must have taken him completely by surprise to suddenly realize, as the protests against him grew stronger, that he was not as well-loved or as popular as he had undoubtedly been telling himself.

There is always a tendency to view the past through rose-tinted glasses, particularly when all the present has to offer is a deeply unsatisfying status quo with little hope for the future. While Musharraf has always had cheerleaders who unconditionally supported him and what he stood for, whatever that might have been, Pakistan has been witnessing the resurgence of a narrative that years for a military strongman supported by ‘technocrats’ to replace the admittedly venal and incompetent cast of characters that currently forms the heart of the country’s nascent democratic order. Support for this position comes from a particularly benign view of the Musharraf years, which many associate with economic growth, political stability, an absence of militancy and terrorism, and the liberalization of the media and telecom sectors.

What this actually represents, however, is an extremely misguided view of what actually happened. Ten years after its collapse, we would do well to remember the dubious ‘achievements’ and disastrous legacy of General Musharraf’s regime; an economic ‘miracle’ that proved to be built on nothing but sand and speculation, the perpetuation of an electoral and party system privileging the traditional political elite and their corrupt patronage politics over all else, the revival of Baloch ethno-nationalism as a direct response to the insensitivity and oppression of the state, the start of the endless military operations and confused strategic thinking regarding ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban that continues to muddy the waters in Pakistan’s fight against violent extremism, the erosion of civil liberties and rights in the pursuit of the self-defined national security objectives, and the mainstreaming of religious political parties that did everything they could to try and impose their narrow morality upon the people they ostensibly represented. In many respects, it would not be unfair to say that Pakistan is still reaping the ill-effects of the policies Musharraf sowed when in government.

Supporters of military rule in Pakistan like to argue that Pakistan has always done best when ruled by the men in khaki, and that anything positive or good that has ever happened in the country has happened under their watch. As the example of the Musharraf years shows, the truth is quite a bit more complicated than that. More importantly, the experience of military rule in Pakistan also raises an interesting paradox; given that military rulers have governed Pakistan for almost half its existence, there is surprisingly little to show for their time in office. What this means is simple; either their much-trumpeted reforms were entirely illusory, easily reversed or subverted thereby implying that they were not substantive to begin with, or there was not much in the way of reform in the first place and Pakistan’s dictators may have actually strengthened some of the more problematic tendencies within the country’s political framework. Either conclusion should be a sobering one those like them who yearn for a return to authoritarianism. More specifically, given how keen Musharraf is to take credit for all that he did, is it likely that he will ever own up to play a formative role in creating the mess Pakistan finds itself in today?