Trying to make sense of Pervez Musharraf’s return

One obvious motivation that has brought former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf back home from exile is that he wants be relevant again. There is only so much excitement to be had by being on a Western lecture circuit for a four-star general used to a much stronger daily fix of adrenalin. His return and arrest at least ensure that unpredictability and uncertainty have returned to his life.

Of course, his specific objective is to rule Pakistan again but an even more important goal appears to be to become consequential again. It is fair to say that those who seek power, particularly men, are wired very differently than those who sit in their basement and speculate. Power is addictive and that addictiveness gets embedded at the elemental level. Sure, life in exile for Musharraf was good in a manner of speaking. There was an audience for his spiel about Pakistan. However, spiel loses its appeal after sometime. 

For now, it may seem that things are not going swimmingly well for him. The dubious distinction of becoming the first Pakistani four-star general to be arrested cannot be all good. And yet, there is probably some long-term calculation behind it. Pakistan, after all, is not unfamiliar with the idea of rehabilitating discredited rulers.

It is tempting to look for a grand design behind Musharraf’s return before the May 11 parliamentary election. I suspect though that it is no more grand than just reclaiming some relevance in his home country. His arrest does rudely interrupt his immediate plan but having once presided over a reflexively vindictive ruling structure himself I am sure he had factored that in. As I said men seeking and winning power are wired differently and they treat developments such as their arrest as a professional hazard. They are often successful at creating an aura of political sacrifice around what for less uninhibited and brazen people would be a terminal blow.

Musharraf is probably counting on the cynical deal-making that is so intrinsic to his country’s power elite. It could be that he may choose to languish a bit and then reemerge after some time. In his calculus, that could still be better than hopping across Western capitals in dapper suits hobnobbing with others in dapper suits. He is 69 years old and may be engaged in burnishing his legacy. I can only second-guess his motivations.

It is being suggested that he may have been subtly encouraged by the all powerful army as a counter to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whose party Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML (N) is said to be regaining electoral ground. It was Musharraf who overthrew Sharif in October, 1999 in a bloodless coup d’état. I am not so sure that Musharraf’s mere presence will cramp Sharif’s style.

Exiles and returns are an amusing feature of Pakistan’s public life. First it was former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who returned on October 18, 2007, after negotiating amnesty from corruption charges with Musharraf. A little over two months later she was assassinated in Rawalpindi. She had been in exile for nine years.

Sharif followed suit and soon returned on November 25, 2007 after being in exile for eight years. He had attempted to return once earlier on September 10 that year but was promptly deported from the airport to Jeddah by Musharraf.

Musharraf’s has returned after nearly four years. The good news is that exiles are getting shorter. That may also be the bad news because returnees inject confusion in the already chaotic political structure. There are those who think that former cricket superstar turned politician Imran Khan and and his Pakistan Teherik-e-Insaaf (PTI) could make significant inroads this time; perhaps enough to win.

I have no clue one way or the other. I can only read South Asian trends and use the luxury of distance to find long-term patterns in them. From that standpoint, what Musharraf seems to be doing is keeping his personal flag fluttering in the hope that the buffeting political winds may spare it even if they leave it in tatters. It is perhaps a lifelong soldier doing what a lifelong soldier does best—take things head-on.

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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