…....The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty. Force is a physical power, and I fail to see what moral effect it can have........Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers.......” – Jean Jacques Rousseau: The Social Contract

"General (retd) Pervez Musharraf must have been wrapped up too much in himself. If he knew his country well and had also been mindful of his own track record, he would not have jumped into the fray challenging once again the country’s judiciary and the lawyers’ community. As if the people already did not have had enough of him in his torrid nine-year rule, his ill-timed return to Pakistan just before elections throws yet another gauntlet in the political minefield of his country. The current politics-driven chaos and uncertainty must have tempted him to come back and also be part of the country’s rotten politics of ‘greed and power’. But he is on a wrong calculus. The people have a memory sharp enough to remember how they ousted him from power after what he did to them and to their country in his lust to remain in power at every cost and by all means. 

The above lines by Rousseau should open his eyes to what it means to be without the ‘strength’ that he once enjoyed. He is no longer strong enough to be the ‘master’, especially when the very institution that he used as the springboard of his power is still struggling to recover the image and stature that it enjoyed before he came to power through an engineered hijack drama as part of a military coup against an elected government in blatant breach of his constitutional oath. The people also remember how for self-serving reasons, he made Pakistan a battleground of the war that did not belong to us and in the process, destroyed the country’s social fabric, decimating its socio-economic, societal, political and strategic potential.

During his last days, General Musharraf used ruthless “means” to remain in power at every cost. He tried to illegally dismiss the Chief Justice of Pakistan, sponsored the May 12 carnage in Karachi that he proudly claimed as his ‘power play’ and unleashed an “open war” against the media and civil society. His unabashed manoeuvres continued until the people came out on the streets chanting “Go Musharraf Go.” If his memory doesn’t fail him, he would remember how he manipulated a dubious deal in the name of “national reconciliation.” Indeed, he did it with acumen and sophistry. First, he promulgated the foreign-brokered NRO on October 5, 2007, and the very next day, he got himself re-elected while still in uniform as Army Chief in violation of the constitution.

This may have been a master stroke any dictator could have played against his political adversaries, but this was clearly a controversial course of action involving constitutional subversion and judicial circumvention. Under the agreed arrangement, Benazir was to return to Pakistan to be elected as PM, while Musharraf was to shed his uniform and continue to be the President in the new political dispensation. The coming events quickly started casting their shadows. Musharraf sensed trouble for his ambitious political future and tried to persuade Mohtarma not to return to Pakistan. But she returned with a bang and soon discovered the real mood of the people. She also heard their clarion call: “Go Musharraf Go.”

A democrat to the core, Benazir could not let her name be slurred with that of a dictator. She realised democracy will not return through dubious deals and started pursuing the roadmap envisaged in the Charter of Democracy that she had co-authored with PML-N’s leader Nawaz Sharif in August 2006. In December 2007, Benazir was targeted and killed under most tragic and bewildering circumstances. Till now, no one knows who killed her and why? The country thus drifted into an abysmal political chaos and confusion. The irony is that her own party’s government did not even investigate her murder.

In November 2007, Musharraf imposed a martial law in the name of “emergency plus.” It was an assault in one stroke on the constitution, the judiciary, the media and fundamental rights of the people. He not only suspended the constitution, but also claimed powers to amend it at will. Under this emergency, he assumed extra-constitutional powers as Army Chief, and then transferred them to himself as a ‘civilianised’ President. This was a clever "person to person" transfer of power. Nowhere in the world was the state power concentrated so densely in one person by name. He reminded us of France's Louis XIV's famous dictum: "L'etat, c'est moi" - "I am the state." But again in Rousseau's words: "The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master."

No wonder, once out of uniform, Musharraf lost his “strength” to remain the master. He was forced to quit and leave the country or else face serious security threats and piles of judicial cases against him, including alleged role in Baloch veteran leader Akbar Bugti’s murder and PPP leader Benazir’s assassination. If he had any sense of history, he should have known that no dictator in Pakistan had ever staged a comeback and that after his own ouster, it was all over for him too. But totally narcissistic as he is, Musharraf defied his destiny and returned to his fate. Now, it is between him and the law.

General Musharraf must not forget the massive popular vote of no confidence against him in the February 2008 election. The people gave him their final democratic call, loud and clear: “Go Musharraf Go.” He should have heeded to their verdict. By respecting their will, he could have availed himself of the opportunity they gave him for an honourable exit. Our people have limitless patience digesting even national tragedies in the past, but now they are losing patience with what their rulers have been or are doing to them and to their national dignity and honour. Musharraf is on top of their wrath. They know that on his ouster five years ago, he left behind a legacy of ‘surrender and servitude’ for his equally selfish civilian successors.

For self-serving reasons, he ransomed the country’s sovereign independence, territorial integrity and national honour. It was he who allowed CIA-operated drone attacks in Pakistan. Even though they were aimed at suspected al-Qaeda or Taliban safe havens, they killed many innocent men, women and children, and despite the vague consent of Pakistan’s rulers, they constituted violation of Articles 42 and 51 of the UN Charter. If history is any lesson, Musharraf should have known what law did to England’s Oliver Cromwell, a soldier who like Musharraf overthrew the lawful Stuart Monarchy before temporarily turning England into a republican commonwealth that he ruled as its Lord Protector, a virtual dictator from 1653 to 1658.

But Cromwell was at least conscientious enough to realise that the source of his authority was force, not law. He died a frustrated man within seven months after he dissolved the last Parliament in disgust, without securing any popular basis for his power. Indeed, history is ruthless in recording its verdict. Cromwell is today remembered both as a great soldier and statesman and as an “English monster” and “a pattern for tyranny, murder and hypocrisy.” After the Royalists returned to power in 1660, they had his corpse dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded for treason. That is what the English law had to do to deter a dictator from overthrowing a lawful regime. But that was in England. The absence of an equally effective ‘law of deterrence’ in our case, however, must not give wrong ideas to an ousted dictator because “the strongest is never strong enough to be always the master.”

The writer is a former foreign secretary.