The ‘likes’ that brought down a general

Nearly a month after his return from more than four years of self-imposed exile, Pakistanis are still struggling to discern what convinced retired Gen Pervez Musharraf to jump headlong into a journey with a dead end.

Admittedly, it is a trite difficult to keep a straight face but you have to wonder if this death wish was not borne out of a gross misreading of Facebook ‘likes’. Musharraf appears to have been taken in by his swell account — the rite of passage being contingent on a mandatory ‘like’ notwithstanding.

To be sure, Musharraf reinforced his Facebook ‘standing’ in a TV show only last week, and when the anchor politely tried to reason with the former strongman on the fragility of such notions, he said, “I know you were going to bring this up, but why shouldn’t I talk about that (Facebook following as proof of people backing him).”

Those who know their Facebook fundamentals — it is hard to imagine in this user-friendly age of communication that one could be misled into such exaggerated notions of likeability — can only laugh at such conclusions.

Most Facebookers, it can be presumed, would be interested in following the life and times of a figure as controversial as the ex-generalissimo. Frankly, yours truly was also drawn “to see what’s up”, but was immediately disinclined after being directed to follow the celebrity narcissism of a mandatory ‘like’.

Now surely, many would still be inclined to ‘compromise’ on the small matter of a ‘like’ to be able to glean statuses and updates of someone pitching his cyber tent fresh from a particularly crucial phase of history.

Musharraf remained in the spotlight for a considerable period post-9/11— a turning point in the US-led global war-on-terror that brought him an unexpected windfall whilst completely turning his fortunes around.

But it is important to understand the great Facebook seduction in Musharraf’s case, which to begin with, is rooted in a self-fulfilling prophecy. After signing up with the US on the terror war following a phone call from Secretary of State Colin Powell, he sold and, in the end, came to believe his self-created perception that as well as being the bulwark against global terror, he had become indispensable for Pakistan.

At the peak of his powers, there never was — and probably to a degree still is — any dearth of expatriate Pakistanis he came into contact with, who reinforced that perception on the basis of a poor view of politicians and democracy as practiced in Pakistan.

As a longtime expat myself until 2005 — Musharraf had been in power for six years by then — I can relate to the rather simplistic view that dominates the thinking of Pakistani diaspora. Politicians are rogues, democracy is not fit for a country like ours, we’re suckers for the ‘danda’ — these were and still are some of the refrains that resonate with a significant majority.

One can argue with the obvious demerits governing such a sweeping sentiment but what I have gathered is that it sticks because inevitably, overseas Pakistanis are conflicted in terms of the contrast available to them in the countries they have migrated to.

The rule of law, its obedience and multifarious hues of meritocracy — whether these Pakistanis are located in the Mideast and Gulf countries or mature democracies in the West — make them impatient about the fare back home.

There may be flimsy knowledge but scant realization that for half of her history, Pakistan has been directly ruled by the military, and save for one democratically elected government led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, every other civilian government had to look over its shoulders to survive.

Even though Pakistan is poised for its first quintessential democratic transition — with power expected to change hands from one civilian government to another — it is, at best, a Pyrrhic victory for democracy. The Pakistan People’s Party-led government was hemmed in by a hostile military, opposition, judiciary and the media.

To be sure, the ruling coalition did not cover itself in glory. If truth be told, it was perhaps the most inefficient, and on the face of circumstantial evidence, the most corrupt government in the country’s history.

Having said that, it is no small feat that they were able to forge consensus on significant constitutional reforms that considerably defanged the security establishment, and even though Nawaz Sharif realized his mistake in backing the wrong horse initially, the PPP leadership successfully thwarted attempts to dislodge its government courtesy the Memogate and reestablish the security establishment’s pre-eminence.

This is what a vast majority of overseas Pakistanis do not take a holistic view of. There is even lesser patience for staying the course to solidify the hard-earned democratic space. Rather simplistic notions of quick fixes often colour their judgment — reinforced every day by what they see with a subconscious comparative mind in the country of their current residence.

All of this suits Musharraf although he conveniently forgets that much of the intractable problems Pakistan finds itself in today are a direct legacy of his self-serving policies and that most Pakistanis, including their expat brethren, have moved on even if Musharraf hasn’t — as the Facebook infatuation amply demonstrates.

Today, the electorate has a choice, if it wants to move away from so-called ‘status quo’ forces. Imran Khan and his Tehrik-e-Insaf have earned their spurs, and clearly, Musharraf is passé.

If social media arithmetic was any guide, Khan is since long the Pakistani with the highest number of followers on Twitter alone. But no-one, least of all he himself, suggests that it is the basis of his popularity or support.

The near universal disdain for his exaggerated self-importance and sense of entitlement must have come as a rude shock to Musharraf even though his counsel Ahmed Raza Kasuri exhibited false bravado by suggesting he was smoking cigar and drinking coffee at his farm house after the ex-general had evaded arrest at the Islamabad High Court.

Perhaps, Musharraf needs to take a sabbatical from his Facebook account. The ‘likes’ have already caused him much to dislike.

The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Mr. Rehmat, Musharraf never said the facebook followers was an exact measure, but one of the indications of his popularity. Your argument is false and rejected. In the absence of Musharraf from Pakistan and his party being brand new, how else can one determine? He has not held any julsa in Pakistan in person. People like you are either wishful thinkers or simply afraid of his silent popularity. If your argument was correct then Imran Khan should have had more Likes. He does not, and Nawaz does not even have 5% of Musharraf's likes. So again, not an exact measure BUT surely one indication he is much more popular than what you would like to admit.

  2. If you don't want to believe Musharraf IS popular, go to any news story on Musharraf and then see the comments and their recommendations. Please let us know your comments afterwards. Thank you.

  3. What piece of crap! These kind writers have surely sold their souls and pens. Wake up time is changing very fast and don't live in illusions. You are under estimating a very strong emerging force.

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