General Musharraf's claim that he is a democrat and will continue to cling on to the Presidency to "strengthen democracy" sounds anything but ludicrous. Pity the President who has become so hugely unpopular that he is being reviled by the 160 million Pakistanis, the rule of thumb being that anyone who loves Pakistan wants to get rid of Musharraf at the earliest. General Rashid Qureshi may be an exception to the rule. The nation has been critical of the man who compromised our sovereignty, perpetuated tyranny and dealt a deathblow to democracy during the last eight years of his misrule. Dictatorship, they say, doesn't let anything grow under its shadow. It holds true for General Musharraf who stands out among all the previous military rulers in committing human rights abuses, stifling the freedom of expression and undermining state institutions. In October 1999 when he unveiled his seven-point agenda that promised to emancipate the nation from the yoke of despotism, he was greeted by many. It was good to hear from him that the governments were meant to serve the masses, not to rule them. The nation trusted him when he announced that he would purge the society of corruption and carry out a transparent process of accountability and warned the 'looters and plunderers' to return the taxpayers' money before the hand of law forced them to do so. But eight years down the road when he is limping through the worst period of his presidency the nation finds itself sunk deeper into despair and despondency. There is hardly anyone to get carried away by his claim that he had planted the tree of democracy and strengthened it even when he was in uniform. The system he had put in place was not consistent with the universally accepted norms of democracy. That his foreign backers kept heaping praises on him didn't mean that the worldview about democracy had changed. A power set-up headed by a president in uniform with parliament functioning as a mere rubberstamp and PM a mere state functionary could not be perceived as democratic. Perhaps the only achievement for which he could claim some credit was the economic turnaround. But, as Sumit Gunguly rightly pointed out in his article in the latest issue of Newsweek, " the boom had little to do with the General's policiesThe substantial aid coming in the wake of 9/11 buoyed Pakistan's economy. Yet Musharraf's military regime never used the opportunity to address the country's endemic underlying problems." General Musharraf now tries to pass the buck on to his own handpicked politicos for creating the economic mess the country is currently facing. One wonders how he would defend his decision of appointing Shaukat Aziz as PM and then letting him run away when the time came to put him in the dock for playing havoc with national economy. But the one thing for which he will find no scapegoat was his slavish subservience to the Bush Administration in fighting its War on Terror. The country has been in turmoil since the so-called threat of being bombed back into the Stone Age that made General Musharraf compromise our sovereignty on one phone-call from the combative White House. It is a crying shame that the coalition forces in Afghanistan kept intruding into our territory and we did not have the courage to even lodge a protest over the massacre of our citizens? As if there had not been enough bloodshed, the Pentagon is now readying itself to launch a major offensive in the restive region. It was difficult to understand what made Musharraf claim credit for creating stability when the two western provinces were in the throes of quasi-insurgency. Balochistan is still bleeding. It has seen more bloodshed in the last four years of military operation than was ever witnessed since the country's birth 60 years ago. If naked aggression were the only means to bring in stability then Chile under Pinochet would have been much more stable. PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari tendered a timely apology to the Baloch for the excesses committed against them during the last eight years of military rule. Perhaps he realized that the situation in Balochistan had come close to the traumatic watershed of 1971 when we lost East Pakistan after years of suppression of Bengalis by our sacred saviours. Musharraf had better confess to having plunged the country deeper into a quagmire than it was at the time when he staged a coup eight-and-a-half years ago. The only way for him to redeem himself is to quit, and quit he must to let the nation heave a sigh of relief. One of the major roadblocks between Pakistan and stability is his lame-duck presidency. E-mail: sarmad@nation.com.pk