Absolute leadership of corridors of power exclude the needs of the masses in Pakistan

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To the apparent relief of a sinking nation, Pervez Musharraf resigned from his long-held position as president of Pakistan and Chief of Army Staff shortly after the country’s 61st independence celebration last week.

One does not need to be a Pakistani to understand that Musharraf overstayed his welcome — newspapers all over the world screamed the former president’s failures at governance and planning. Examples include a panorama of recurring bomb explosions, unjustly appointed (not “elected”) partisan heads — Asif Zardari (widower of Pakistan’s first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto) and Nawaz Sharif (former prime minister) — to the two leading opposition parties, and the tumor-like existence of extremist militants across the country.

After receiving billions of dollars from the United States as counterterrorism funding since the September 11 attacks, the wastage of human life, both military and civilian, is rampant in the country at the hands of the Taliban and supporting terrorist groups. It was not the welfare of Pakistan at heart, but rather the fear of his impeachment, that led Musharraf to step down. Instead of doing so with dignity, Musharraf walked away like a bitter child being dragged by his parents, as he endlessly cried, “Long live Pakistan!” in a nationally televised speech.

An end to Musharraf’s Pakistan should spell recovery for a politically raped nation. However, this is not the case. The next problem is the nomination of the notoriously corrupt Zardari, widely considered the alleged mastermind behind his wife Bhutto’s assassination in December, as future president of Pakistan.

History is witness to this pass-the-power game between military and civilian governments in Pakistan. In 1965, President General Ayub Khan’s peace declaration with India at Tashkent (USSR), after a brief but bloody and economically damaging war with the neighboring country, led to his unpopularity among Pakistanis. This, in turn, earned Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Khan’s former adviser and founder of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, now led by none other than his son-in-law, Zardari) respect and fame as the opposition to Khan.

It did not take long for the tables to turn. In an attempt to win Pakistan back its political pride and economic independence, Bhutto applied strategies such as the nationalization of key industries and the acceptance of technical aid from the Soviet Union. In the process, he sidetracked anyone who came in his way, including members of his own party, who then joined forces with General Muhammed Zia-ul-Haq, the most brutal extremist dictator in the history of Pakistan, who later had Bhutto hanged for the alleged murder of an influential PPP member’s father.

When Zia’s private jet mysteriously blew up, the senior Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, took the reigns of the country in her hands. As the masses once again hoped for a more stable and prosperous Pakistan, Bhutto and Zardari together fed them empty promises and relished millions of dollars in their name. This is apparent even today, in the showcase of marvelous glass buildings owned by the couple in Dubai, an entire transportation network known as Dubai Transport owned by Zardari, and ridiculously loaded Swiss accounts that they hold. Zardari was also accused of money laundering by the Swiss courts during the term his wife served as prime minister of Pakistan.

And now, the same Zardari whose name is almost synonymous with corruption, whose sole claim to fame is his deceased wife, and the fact that he spent 11 years in prison over several charges that resound dishonesty, is expected to sew together a nation hanging by its last threads? The reason Zardari has been able to get away with the firm charges against him, and may actually even make it to the position of the country’s president, is largely due to Musharraf’s amnesty of any corruption charges against Bhutto and her husband. To the naked eye, Musharraf, Zardari, and Sharif were spearheads of a power struggle. How were the political interests of these three men always secured?

This destructive cycle of absolute leadership caters to the corridors of power, but excludes the most important and needy of the nation — the masses. The average man is blinded by a ray of hope as a new government takes the nation under its wing, and is then left in darkness as it reveals its self-interest.

Initially, Musharraf enjoyed a genuine welcome when he kicked out a bumbling and vastly unpopular Sharif. He continued to gain in popularity as time went by because people perceived him to be a good, honest, straight-forward Army man, who held the good of the nation at heart. It is said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. To fuel his hunger for supremacy, the sycophants that surrounded Musharraf as he settled into the hot seat helped shape his ultimate dog-eat-dog situation. And thus, from a savior who overthrew the civilian rule of Sharif almost a decade ago, Musharraf declined into a power-mongering and insecure dictator. Musharraf started to equate himself with the country. He was Pakistan. And there lay the seeds of his downfall.