Pakistan: The general who won’t go away

Along stretches of highway and railway tracks across Pakistan, walls bear a familiar inscription: Mard kabhi boorha nahin hota, a man never grows old. It’s an advert by quacks and herbalists peddling eternal virility to aging Pakistani men. It would appear that Pakistan’s former military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf has taken this roadside assurance too seriously.

Nine years after his ouster from the presidency, and many humiliating attempts to reclaim political relevance later, he is at it again. In a recentinterview with Sky News, he said that if he could return to power now he would have more legitimacy than the first time around because back then some people thought he was a dictator. He said this with a straight face.

Musharraf’s dreams are as hopeless as the claims of the roadside quacks, but that doesn’t stop him from coming up with elaborate plans to bring them about. Despite what the aphrodisiac sellers say, men do get old, and they don’t get any wiser with age.

Back in his day, Musharraf sold himself to the world as the last man standing between the Taliban and Western civilization. In the bargain, he achieved everything that a developing country’s military dictator could want: a trip to Camp Davida house in Dubaia flat in central Londona book dealhis own TV show. You would think that after all that, he would retire, play golf and occasionally show up on the after-dinner lecture circuit. But earlier this month he announced the creation of a 23-party political alliance and appointed himself its chairman.

Many of those parties were previously unheard-of, and some of the ones that were known announced that they had nothing to do with Musharraf or his grand alliance. Still, within days Musharraf was back on TV reminiscing about his glorious rule and pitching himself as a savior-in-waiting — the man who would deliver Pakistan from its current political crisis, caused by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification from office on corruption charges.

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