Congratulations, Pakistan, for your saviour has arrived. It’s the second coming of the messiah or, at the very least, the return of the prodigal son. Forget Imran Khan, ignore Bilawal Bhutto, and banish any affection you might have for the Brothers Sharif; all are mere charlatans whose talents and ambitions are far outstripped by those of the one true leader Pakistan needs. For every malady that ails the country, this titan among men has the remedy. The system, for example, should not be derailed unless it is done through the judiciary or the military. The 18th Amendment, according to this peerless sage, was a colossal mistake, eroding the ‘checks and balances’ that were once ensured through Article 58-2(b) of the constitution. After all, even though the military should play its constitutional role in the country, this role obviously includes a deep involvement with governance. On the TTP, the Great One’s position is clear; Pakistan has never supported or created Islamist militant groups, even if such outfits will be used in an inevitable proxy war with India in Afghanistan. When he finally assumes power (and, in his mind, it is very much a question of when rather than if), he will provide the direction and vision that a grateful nation will thank him for. The minor transgressions of his past, the peccadilloes and small errors of judgment, all will be forgiven when General Musharraf makes his big comeback.

Based on his boisterous television interviews and frequent public statements, it is easy to forget that General Musharraf is a man currently being tried for treason. The sheer chutzpah on display can be gauged by how he continues to absolve himself of the many mistakes made during his tenure as Pakistan’s latest dictator. The Kargil debacle? A fitting response to India’s involvement in the Bangladeshi liberation movement. The imposition of martial law? Perfectly understandable given the unsuitability of ‘Western-style’ democracy in Pakistan. The jailing of dissidents and those who dared to rise up against his rule in 2007? A simple response to a poor law and order situation made worse by ‘troublemakers’. The weakness of the judiciary? An institutional failing that somehow exists in a vacuum, completely independently of attempts by his government, and those of his military predecessors, to eviscerate the courts and deprive them of any independence. Drone strikes? Apparently never authorized by him except, of course, for the fact that they were, as confirmed by leaked diplomatic cables and a variety of other sources. The murder of Akbar Bugti? Totally justified, never mind the long and ignominious role played by the military establishment when dealing with demands for Baloch rights and autonomy. The handing over of Pakistani citizens, without any semblance of due process, to the torturers at the CIA? Necessary for the pursuit of Pakistan’s national security. The excuses are endless, the rationalizations myriad and worst of all, there is an audience for this that is more than willing and happy to forgive, forget, and move on.

Musharraf’s rehabilitation should not be surprising. After all, we can be extremely forgiving as a nation. Growing up in Lahore in the early 1990s, I vividly remember passing by a billboard on the canal road that featured a massive portrait of Zia-ul-Haq with the words, ‘you gave us this disease, now you give us the medicine’. This, of course, could not happen, as the late general went to his grave without ever being called to account for the destructive intolerance and hatred he bred in society during his years in power. Instead, even today, he is hailed as a hero by large swathes of the population, upheld as a shining beacon of moral righteousness, economic strength, and military power. His sins, to the extent they were even viewed as such, have been forgiven.

This is also illustrated by the case of Junaid Jamshed. While many undoubtedly experienced a certain amount of schadenfreude when he was accused of blasphemy, it is simultaneously important to remember that the consequences of such allegations, and the manner in which these charges are leveled, are no laughing matter, and should ideally not be experienced by anyone. However, based on the way in which Jamshed’s tearful apology has been received, concerns for his welfare are arguably unwarranted. Indeed, even though the allegations remain in place, he is clearly a different category of blasphemer, one who is worthy of our collective sympathy and support. After all, when you are a misogynistic multi-millionaire businessman and preacher who has spent much of his life tirelessly promoting Pepsi and its myriad products, you can be excused the occasional blasphemous mistake.

This is in contrast with the more ‘serious’ cases of blasphemy. The ones which lead to Christian couples being burnt to death in brick kilns for reasons that have nothing to do with the repayment of debts. Or the ones in which entire Christian settlements are razed to the ground for reasons that have nothing to do with disputes over property. Or the ones in which Christian women are jailed and sentenced to death for daring to share the same utensils as their Muslim compatriots. Or when Hindus are arrested so that their temples can be occupied. Or when Ahmadis are shot just because they exist. In these cases, we do not want to hear any apologies, we do not want to display any empathy, and we certainly do not want to permit any mercy. There are limits to our magnanimity.

Selective memories, selective principles, and collective hypocrisy define the way in which we deal with those who do not conform to the warped standards of our mainstream national and religious narratives. Musharraf and Junaid Jamshed get a pass because they belong to the ‘right’ side, the one that has manipulated and monopolized the public discourse since 1947. Everyone else, minorities, women, the working class, progressives, and secular-minded individuals, all face the full wrath of the state and the self-righteous mobs that support it. We accept no apologies and, equally importantly, we offer none; none to the hundreds of thousands who perished in Bengal in 1971, the thousands more who have died and disappeared in Balochistan, the many who continue to fall victim to sectarianism and religious violence, the workers whose labour we exploit and whose dignity we deny, the women killed for honour, the children worked to death, the list goes on and on.

Not that it matters. When Musharraf comes to power, everything will work out just fine. If not, there is always Plan C (D, E, F. and so on) to look forward to. After all, the more things change, they more they clearly don’t stay the same, right?

The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.