The once Prince


Machiavelli sends Caesar Musharraf of Pakistan behind bars

“Considerations of the welfare of the state must outweigh any considerations of individual or group welfare,” Professor D R Bhandari quoted the 15th century political philosopher Machiavelli as advising the then Prince Caesar Borgia of the City State of Florence (Italy) in his monumental book: “History of European Political Philosophy”, printed first in 1937 in the Indian state of Bangalore.

“In the interests of the state he (the prince) must be ready to sin boldly,” Machiavelli goes on to spell out his, what the political scientists later termed as, “realpolitik” in his book “The Prince” while teaching the Caesar the art of the government.

Going through this inhumane, highly desensitised and state-centric Machiavellian political philosophy, I found, time and again, the image and statements of the dictator-turned-politician Pervez Musharraf flashing in my mind.

Under his self-proclaimed notion of Pakistan First, Musharraf served the state interest well by belittling individual and group interest through, as Machiavelli suggests, sinning boldly in the face of wiping out Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, an individual, and the students of Lal Masjid, a group.

Greatly inspired by Aristotelian philosophy, Machiavelli (1469-1527) idealised his “new prince” as a leader who had seized a state with force. The Oct 12 coup in 1999 makes Musharraf a perfect mirror image of Machiavelli’s new prince who had grabbed the power of the state with the unparalleled (internally) might of Pakistan Army.

If media reports are to be cited, Musharraf, the ex-army chief who ruled Pakistan with an iron fist for nine long years, has been in a deep trouble ever since his homecoming from self exile.

The former president is sub-jailed in his farmhouse in Chak Shehzad to undergo a fortnightly judicial remand by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the APML chief for his alleged house-arresting of 60 members of superior courts for over five months post Nov 3, 2007, emergency.

As is evident from the retired general’s facial expressions visible in almost all of his news photos, Musharraf, a tested proponent of use of force as a head of the state, sees no quarter extending him an olive branch, something that makes his fate highly uncertain. And vulnerable in the worst case.

The atmosphere surrounding him is increasingly hostile with politicians, media, judiciary, lawyers, civil society and even army not ready, seemingly, to extend the most desirable helping hand to the former dictator.

What makes things worse for the “Pakistan First” fame former army chief is the fact that some of his past political allies from the now-electioneering PML-Q, MQM, PML-F, NPP and other political parties which ruled the country for years under his autocratic regime, have distanced themselves from the judicially-embattled general.

Instead, the senators from PML-Q and MQM extended a “silent support” to a couple of PPP-PML-N-backed resolutions calling for Musharraf to be tried under article 6 of the constitution during proceedings of the upper house.

To the discomfort of former general, this sudden change of political loyalties substantiates the proverbial impression that there is no permanent enemy and permanent friend in politics, but permanent interest.

The lawyers, who had waged a nationwide movement against Musharraf regime for the restoration of judiciary, also gave a cold shoulder to the retired general when the latter, reportedly, tried to pass on a friendly smile to a group of lawyers present at last Saturday’s proceedings at the ATC. Apparently, a confidence building measure taken by the former statesman, as his fast-depleting admirers still call him, this uncalled-for smile and the response thereof speak volumes about the level of antagonism the black coats harbour for the ex-dictator. Not to mention the earlier shoe-throwing at the Sindh High Court.

His former colleagues in uniform, once dubbed by the proud general as his “skin”, also appear to be indifferent to, what an APML spokeswoman Saturday claimed “judicial terrorism” a judge of the Islamabad High Court had committed against Musharraf on April 18 by ordering his arrest after the dismissal of the APML chief’s petition for pre-arrest bail.

Given the serious nature of other high-profile cases and the public sentiments attached to them, one can aptly surmise that the path ahead for the self-declared ex-commando is extremely rocky.

His detractors whereas want him to be punished for all the alleged wrongdoings he had committed during his reign, the former president and army chief insists that he only had acted in the national interest as a head of the state.

And here is where one can see the ruthless Machiavellian philosophy at work. By attributing his past unpopular deeds to the ill-defined national interest, Musharraf, like most of the rulers in contemporary world, wants to convey the message that his bloody use of force against Lal Masjid students, Nawab Akbar Bugti, agitating lawyers and even the media persons during Nov 2007 emergency was justified.

Put a cursory glance at the contemporary human history and you would find scores of Musharrafs committing crimes against humanity in the name of broader national interest, an ill-defined, ambiguous term mostly used, rather misused, by the rulers to justify their unpopular deeds.

This is the 15th century, out-fashioned, Machiavellian approach that made the biggest champions of international human rights in Obama regime assassinate international fugitive Osama bin Laden on May 3, 2011, in Abbotabad, extra-judicially. The Boston police just followed the suit by killing, in an overnight shootout, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of two Chechen brothers suspected for Monday’s deadly Marathon blasts.

It is unclear as to what extent Caesar Borgia of Florence had put into effect the Machiavellian guidelines. One thing, however, can be said with surety that if alive today the Italian political philosopher would have been overwhelmed to see many of his followers sitting at the helm of affairs. Musharraf would be a special pupil to Machiavelli who in his world famous book defines an ideal ‘new prince’ as an “enlightened despot” of an “unmoral” and not immoral type.

The former autocrat’s slogan of “enlightened moderation” whereas still has not set well with the predominantly ideological society of Pakistan, his successor General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in his recent speech to military cadets at Kakul, has kick-started another intellectual debate by unveiling his own interpretation of the creation of Pakistan that, the army chief said, was “created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan”.

This untimely rhetoric, as critics called it, of General Kayani, whose perceived all-powerful influence in the country’s political affairs makes him a de facto head of the state, seems to have set another theoretical tone for the crises-hit nation state of over 180 million.

So it’s the states, and not individuals, be it Musharraf, Basharul Assad, Saddam Hussain or Kayani for that matter, which require heads of the state to, as Machiavelli put it centuries ago, “sin boldly” to protect interest of the state.

All said and done, the crimes against humanity at the hands of Machiavellian states would go unabated unless the world senses the longstanding and pressing need for making the state humane.

The rulers, while formulating policies, would have to do away with the barbaric Machiavellian thoughts that might have conformed to the political paradigms of 15th century but are completely out of fashion in today’s globalised, pragmatically enlightened and questioning international society.

Or else, awakening societies like Pakistan would continue to witness more trials of these military, as well as civilian, dictators.

The writer is a researcher and a working journalist. He can be contacted at: [email protected]