General (retd) Pervez Musharraf has returned from his self-imposed exile against the advice of many people. He plans to contest the upcoming elections. Perhaps, he’d be able to win them - from Karachi, thanks to the MQM, and Chitral, because of the Lowari Tunnel that was built in his time. It is said that Musharraf’s time was better than that of President Asif Ali Zardari. But then who signed the NRO that made Zardari’s rise possible and the nation was saddled by the latter for the last disastrous five years?

In July 2000, just nine months after his coup, a local newspaper reported that hundreds of people heavily armed with sophisticated weapons held a public meeting in Damadola of southern Dir and declared: “We have adopted the style of government of the Taliban.......Those persons who do not withdraw their legal cases from Pakistan’s courts and file them in our courts will be given one or more of the following punishments: killing them, banishing them from the area and dynamiting of their houses.” So what should have Musharraf done to control the situation?

Surely, he should have sent a detachment of the police or army, surrounded the village, hauled up the rebels and sentenced them to life imprisonment. As it was just the beginning, it could have been nipped in the bud. But he did nothing to contain the growing militancy on a war footing. He allowed them to challenge the writ of the state till 2008, when the militants had completely captured Swat after which a massive military operation was launched to clear the area.

Then, when the girls at Lal Masjid had captured the Children’s Library in Islamabad, he should have sent the police and had them arrested. And if they had armed protectors, why did he let them congregate at a stone’s throw from the presidency and Parliament?

Many believe that he deliberately let extremism to take root; perhaps, to the send a clear message to the US that it had no other choice, and it was in its interest to keep him in power. It is a different story that, in the process, he allowed and enabled it to develop into a full-blown insurgency and an existential threat for Pakistan, where the militants are openly killing prospective candidates of the political parties they dislike, also endangering the electoral process. Indeed, a timely action by Musharraf would have saved the country from the menace of terrorism.

Musharraf was also the architect of the Kargil debacle. Against this backdrop, in 1965, Air Field Marshal Ayub Khan had committed a blunder of Himalayan proportions. He was an unelected ruler and, hence, craved legitimacy. He knew if he got Kashmir, the people would forgive him. He tried to grab India’s jugular vein to Kashmir at Chhamb-Jaurian. When India counterattacked, he was barely able to save Lahore and Sialkot; he had to forget all about Kashmir.

It is rightly said that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. Thirty years later, Musharraf made the same mistake. He grabbed the lifeline of the northern Indian army at Kargil. India did not even have to attack; they gave out an ultimatum that unless Pakistan withdrew by July 10, they would attack. PM Nawaz Sharif had to proceed to the US and give assurances to defuse the situation. When the two Army Chiefs made the same blunder 30 years apart, one wonder: what do they teach at the army’s educational institutions? Perhaps, tactics without strategy. Or were the two Chiefs specially dim-witted?

Reverting to the topic. Musharraf has many cases against him. There is the treason case in the Supreme Court with possible capital punishment. There is the Taliban threat on account of the Lal Masjid incident. Baloch leader Talal Bugti’s has  also announced Rs 100 million reward for person who will kill him. With all this, the perception that he has returned after very strong guarantees from some equally influential countries seem to be correct. Otherwise, why would he expose himself to so many grave dangers.

The writer is a former principal of the King Edward Medical College, and former president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan.  Email: ijaz.ahsan35@gmail.com