Pakistan’s democracy has had a rough ride ever since the nation came into existence. Its generals have appropriated power to become the ‘Deep State’. Military coups have become a ‘normal’ occurrence, with each self-appointed ‘President’ leading the country to one disaster after another, be it Ayub Khan with the 1965 misadventure or Yahya Khan with the Bangladesh disaster (for Pakistan). While neither Ayub Khan nor Yahya Khan were the brightest sparks as generals or leaders, they did create an eco-system in which the Army took increased control of the country, be it directly or indirectly. Foreign affairs, undercover operations, managing political dissension and breakaway movements increasingly became its brief.
This situation and the Afghan resistance against the USSR led to the emergence of Zia-ul-Haq, who brought religious fundamentalism and arming of radical groups into the equation. Having seen the success of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the model was extended to the Kashmir separatist cause. It went so far out of control that it is not hard to believe he was assassinated for sectarian reasons by his own men.
So, by the time it was Pervez Musharraf’s turn to enjoy power, it was already a complex and deadly machine that he headed. His interventions in Pakistan polity directly and indirectly led to Pakistan’s present situation. He first scuttled improving relations between India and Pakistan with the Kargil misadventure. Then, after ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he tried to shape a relationship of ‘equality’ between the two countries but was thwarted by the same kind of tactics that he had himself adopted. He was one military President who tried to learn from his mistakes and bring about improvement, but matters already had gone out of control. He ultimately lost the overall battle and basically escaped the punishment he deserved because of the unwillingness of the military to grant power to any other institution over a general, even a disgraced one.
He lived out the rest of his life in ‘exile’ and died this Sunday an almost forgotten figure, even in Pakistan. But he remains one of those who left a dark legacy for his country whose consequences have become difficult to escape. The Army has developed even more sophisticated ways to control the system but lacks the ability to govern. Even with its people starving, Pakistan has to pay for an outsized military that it cannot afford. The nation seems to be caught in a spiral not very different from Zia-ul-Haq’s ill-fated aircraft.