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Whether A Dictator Or Democrat: Please Explain

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Message Muhammad Khurshid
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The ceremony was held in which President General Pervez Musharraf has handed over the power of Army Chief of the Staff to another general. It was staged more like an elaborate drama. General Pervez Musharraf is still holding the power.  Actually, he is the nominee of President Bush for ruling Pakistan, so whether the people may want him or not, he will remain the ruler of Pakistan. Most of the tribesmen think that President Bush has purchased this land. Some of them want to know the price he has given for this land.

While discussing the issue a leading writer Mahmud Sipra stated that:  In a meticulously choreographed ceremony and with all the pomp and circumstance, General Pervez Musharraf handed over the COAS’s baton to his successor General Ashfaq Kayani, thus signalling to Pakistan and the world that a new helmsman has taken command of the Army. Resplendent in his ceremonial tunic and with a stiff upper lip General Musharraf bade farewell to the Army he loved and served for 46 years to the strains of Auld Lang Syne.

While this symbolic ceremony was going on inside the stadium, out in the car-bay someone undoubtedly was adding a fourth star to the rank plate of the new chief’s car. Sometime later, a simple Order of the Day would go out to his troops under his signature — signifying that the torch of leadership is now firmly held in his steady hands.

By the time this piece appears in cold print General Musharraf’s old batman will be helping his Sahib into a neatly pressed blue serge suit and then with a moist eye, mothball the General’s uniform for posterity. I don’t know what will be going through the General’s mind at such a moment in his life but I do know what is going through mine as I write this. You have been a good General, Sir, and now the country and the world hopes you will be an even better President.

You came to power at a time in Pakistan’s history when the country had little going for it and much against it: the treasury was almost bankrupt, the economy in a shambles, and politics in a state of regression. This was how perilously close Pakistan had come to being labelled a “failed state”. That was some eight years ago. The world has turned many times since.

You have been at the helm of the country’s affairs through its trials and tribulations. The country’s landscape bears testimony to the efforts you and your administration have made in developing it. There are roads where there were only pathways; bridges where there were none; hospitals in place of dispensaries and areas struck by disasters now taking shape as model developments. There is electricity, telephone and gas in the remotest corners of the country. Information technology is finally making friends with the young and spurring them to learn to navigate the highway to knowledge. A bold new breed of young men and women has come of age to take their place in the promise that a developing market economy holds out. Above all you are delivering on your pledge to hold free and fair elections.

But all this has come at a price.

An insidious force called terrorism stalks the land. Law and order seems to have fallen into feeble hands with the advent of hordes of scofflaws and urban bandits that now roam freely in the cities. Murder, rape, road rage, dacoities and rampant acts of terrorism have become an everyday affair in all the provincial capitals including the federal capital. The populace is in a state of siege. No one, not even your detractors, will fault you if you adopt a policy of coming down hard on the criminal elements that are slowly gnawing into the very fabric of civil society.

When you say that the nuclear assets of the country are in safe hands the world believes you. When you say that the country is safe and secure, the people believe you. But what about the people themselves? They too expect to be secured against the vagaries and vicissitudes that the broad sword of progress lays bare. It is said that with every one furlong of highway you lay down, you have created ten highwaymen to rob and kill you. A frightening statistic of urbanisation. If this doesn’t fall into the realm of macro-management then I don’t know what does.

One accepts that a distinction has to be made between legitimate dissent and those that disrupt by thumbing their nose at the law. A raucous press however is a sign of a nation’s good health. The chatter that emanates from an independent media is a far better barometer of a nation’s mood then what state-controlled television radio or newspapers can possibly aspire to. If they have overstepped their mandate, which they may have in certain cases, it should be now dismissed as part of coming of age. In the days and weeks to come you will notice the same unrelenting scrutiny and criticism from them on those that aspire for public office. It is the nature of the beast.

One five-year term of office may not be enough to achieve the goals that you may have envisioned for the country. But that is now in the past. The country stands at a crossroads again. You stand poised to take oath as president for another five-year term of office. To preserve and protect are going to be the two key words you swear by at that heady moment. In some future moment of solitude you might care to reflect on the gravitas of those two words. For to live up to them one has to be prepared to be both the anvil and the hammer. It is what makes a soldier into a statesman.

Politics and power play aside, to date you have lived up to the pledges you made and perhaps in some cases gone even beyond of what was expected of you. Your army career is now behind you. The future lies ahead. The country is less then 50 days away from holding a general election. You have shown immense courage foresight and wisdom in allowing your two main detractors to return and freely pursue their own political agenda.

They are all here now. Whichever way the pendulum swings on Election Day is no longer for you to decide. Except from ensuring a level playing field, nothing that you do from now on in the cause of furthering democracy is going to make the slightest difference. If either of the two contenders or their party wins then you are going to have the devil of a time deciding who you are going to work with. If they lose they are going to cry foul anyway. That Mr President is the penalty of leadership.

At the time Pakistan was going through its birth pangs a very wise man observed on his deathbed that “the art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order”. His name was Alfred Whitehead.

There may be moments when you might think that “it is the best of times”. But then when you look back over the past few months, you might say to yourself that it is “the worst of times”. You would be right either way.
The End


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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is also (more...)
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