December 08, 2017
Mugabe’s ignominy in Zimbabwe ending a 37-year misrule is reminiscent of Pakistan’s own political history.
Overstay has been the core problem. And not knowing when to quit sets the stage for a slow-motion downfall.
It occurred with Ayub, Bhutto, Zia, Musharraf, and, now. Motivators for overstay have been: (1) amassing riches; (2) launching socio-political dynastic empires to ostensibly guarantee overextension to eternity, not realizing that time on earth is finite; and (3) trauma of relinquishment.
Trump owes thanks to Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, who attempted to perpetuate the dynastic presidency platforms provided, respectively, by husband and father.
Any seafood lover can recount how repellent is the fishy odor of a stale fish. Extrapolating to the political realm is the scent of something new and fresh, which has its own popular appeal.
The first US President, George Washington, is revered because he twice rejected over-extension. First, in 1783, after securing independence from England, he rejected assuming power for himself and resigned as commander-in-chief of armed forces. Second, after his unanimous election twice as US president, he voluntarily resigned, setting an informal precedent for presidential term limits (incorporated formally into the US Constitution in 1951).
50 years ago, President de Gaulle quit the French presidency to lead a quiet and austere life in his village of Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, a two-hour journey by train from metropolitan Paris. His grave in the church graveyard is so unprepossessing that I could only find it with the help of a French cop. De Gaulle had the courage to take the risk of quitting Algeria, which many Frenchmen believed to be integral to France. To grasp the magnitude of what de Gaulle did then, would any present-day US politician dare to pressure Netanyahu to vacate the Occupied Territories?
In October 1968, sycophants of Ayub decided to trumpet his presidency with the “Decade of Development.” It triggered a public backlash and, within a matter of a few weeks, Ayub was out. Similarly, after 11 years in power, Zia overreached by sacking his hand-picked prime minister, Junejo, on May 29, 1988. It was a bridge too far and, less than 90 days later, Zia’s airplane went down in flames. Musharraf, driven by the ambition of overextension, overstepped by firing the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Repeatable actions lead to repetition of past disasters.
The so-called Opposition is no better, recycling as it is the tired slogan of ‘Naya Pakistan,’ shamefully deployed by beneficiaries of the 1971 breakup of the original Pakistan.
The virus of over-reach is not limited to politicians. When the in-uniform Army Chief sought an extension from Zardari, it exposed the absence of internal institutional safeguards within the military, which would have thwarted an individual step deleterious to the morale of the armed forces. Parenthetically, it may apply also to the out-of-uniform step of another chief to join a dubious and divisive alliance, with its Pandora-box implications for security and governance.
The street is fickle. It cheers when leaders enter power and it cheers when they exit power. A simple way to avoid blame and shame is to avoid going past the expiry date.