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Democracy Will Only Survive If We Hold Its Tormentors Accountable

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“Many countries have struggled reconciling a dictator’s burial with their own history,” writes Micheal Bueza in famous Rappler, online news website based in Philippines. He has given details about the controversies surrounding burial of some dictators around the world.

According to the author, the plan to transfer remains of former president and martial law administrator Ferdinand Marcos back to Philippines triggered a fierce debate. This followed a deal between the Marcos family and the government and placement of his remains in a mausoleum before the country’s supreme court decided about his burial at Libingan Biyani, a heroes’ cemetery. Critics vociferously pointed out human rights violations under his regime. Therefore, after a national debate it took the country’s Supreme Court to take a decision by 9-5 for his remains to return.

Ferdinand Marcos - Philippines Dictator

Ferdinand Marcos – Philippines Dictator

In Spain, there have been calls to remove the remains of dictator Francis Franco, who rose to power after the bloody civil war, from a national memorial where his victims were also buried. Dictator’s supporters continue to oppose the same by arguing that it cannot be done without the permission of his family members.

Similarly, Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic, accused of war crimes and remembered as the Butcher of Balkans, died at a UN detention centre while facing Hague trials. He was denied a state funeral and buried at his home town by his family and supporters.

Pinochet, Chilean dictator

Pinochet, Chilean dictator

Interestingly, Chile’s military ruler Augusto Pinochet was not given a state funeral on his death, which followed many charges of human rights violations. But he was given a military funeral being an army commander by the powerful military junta even as the country’s president happened to be Michelle Bachelet, daughter of a general, who resisted Pinochet’s 1973 mutiny and was thrown in jail, where he died.

In nutshell, nations must debate and discuss the apparently symbolic but inherently critical message the young generation gets when these dictators are buried, with or without any honour. Pakistan’s history of such a debate has not been very encouraging which also explains the growing undemocratic and depoliticised attitudes of our younger generation.

Back in 1977, dictator General Zia killed the political and democratic thought process by banning student unions and political groups, incarcerating politicians and rights’ activists, clamping down on the press and speech in Pakistan. He was buried with a state funeral and full military honours. No one bothers about his grave at the Faisal Mosque built by those who bulldoze such graves around their own grand mosque back home. The grave is still there and none of his mentors/financiers of this mosque come to offer a ‘Fateha’ here.

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Today, 31 years later, we have a nation and a generation of people who are confused about the very concept of democracy and the political process. The likes of even Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto didn’t bother to undo the situation. She couldn’t even erect a memorial at the venue of the “judicial murder” of her father – a portion of park in Rawalpindi where the old Central Jail was located. It was here that her father was hanged to death by the compromised courts under General Zia.

Not too far from this place, we have a huge “Ayub Park” named after Field Martial Ayub Khan, who was incidentally buried quietly at his home town without a state funeral or military honours.

Our nation and the national politics are once again at the crossroads. It is difficult to say if General Musharraf’s health is more critical or that of the country he mis-ruled for 8 years. Both are on the ventilator. Have the successors learned anything from this military dictator? We will find out soon. We have in the past buried a dictator Yahya Khan, declared as a usurper by the court, with full military honours. An honourable burial in 1980 under yet another military dictator General Zia Ul Haq.

As mentioned earlier, General Zia himself received state funeral and burial in the lawns of Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad when he died in a 1988 military plane crash.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s body was never allowed to be seen by his family members, including his daughter Benazir Bhutto, who later became prime minister twice before being killed in a suicide attack under General Musharraf’s government’s watch. Having miserably failed to hold any dictator accountable, the nation as a whole, including the government, political parties, institutions and media are once again at the cross roads of history.

As reports suggest, our last declared military ruler General (r) Pervez Musharraf is not in a good shape and is likely to be flown back to Pakistan.

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The question of the moment is; are we going to give full military honours to the former dictator? In other words, are we going to bid farewell to the declared dictator only, or to the dictatorship?

The legacy of past dictators is only remembered for the curse of weapons, drugs, terrorism and extremism they inflicted on our society.

With the towering Ayub Khan, Bengalis felt belittled and alienated before being separated. General Zia ul-Haq destroyed the very edifice of politics and political process in the country with the weapon of extremism and fanaticism. General Musharraf billed the US government to undo all that and yet internalised terrorism to thwart and hijack politicians and political process in Pakistan.

The question of today is: Will the dictator, tried for treason, declared a proclaimed offender and a fugitive of law get the protocol of a former president? Is he too going to be wrapped up in the national flag and given a warm send-off with a gun salute like his predecessors?

In the history of the British parliament, the dictator Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed, chained, hung as a punishment for his crime against the parliament. This is a history that laid the foundation for Britian’s strong parliamentary democracy. British or American, the democracy in Pakistan too will only survive when our young generation knows the value of holding dictators accountable.


The views expressed here are solely those of the author.

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