Triumphs – as the victory festivities for returning generals in ancient Rome were called – were quite the spectacle. An extravaganza where all the stops were pulled out and the general in question was given a welcome that was a sight to behold. Subdued versions of these triumphs formed the model for all military celebrations for centuries since then.
But perhaps the one aspect of Triumphs that some modern armies don’t teach, is the tradition of having a man standing behind the general in the same chariot, constantly whispering into his ear sic transit gloria (“all glory fades”) and memento mori (“remember you are mortal.”)
The world might have seen a sea change since the days of the ancient Roman empire but those two lines are as immutable now as they were back then.
General Pervez Musharraf has died, as anyone who lives will, eventually. He leaves behind a sorry legacy, though; a fate that everyone that has lived does not have to share.
After carrying out one of the worst snafus in our military history, he toppled an elected government. Participated in a global war on terror, the terms of which would have been entirely different had the country been run at the time by an elected government, and not by a nervous military junta afraid of international sanctions. And then, to twist the knife, played a double-game in that very war, the consequences of which we are facing till this very day.
On the political front, though he wasn’t the first dictator to have indulged in massive political engineering, it was still a harmful endeavour with or without the distinction of having been the first. Our ever stunted political evolution was set back decades.
The supposed economic progress that his remaining acolytes cite, was merely increased consumption as a result of dollars coming to the country in the aftermath of the war on terror, not systemic and sustainable economic growth.
Allowing free broadcast media in the country, too, was something that would have taken place anyway, and was a comment on technology, not state acquiescence. If private channels could be illegally beamed into North Korea, the only remaining state that practices old school totalitarianism, they sure could in lively and bustling Pakistan; the Musharraf regime thought it would give in and try to get some brownie points, stylised in the ‘benevolent dictator’ mould.
The attacks on journalists, rights activists and political activists that marked his tenure notwithstanding, it was his brazen confrontation with the judiciary that proved to be his undoing, sparking off a lawyers’ movement so unique that it made headlines the world over.
High on his power, surrounded by lackeys that often flank dictators, he famously pumped his fists in the air during a ceremony, while images of a thuggish political ally party of his in Karachi, killing its opposition members were beamed live on TV.
Lackeys often have the gift of the gab, but none are known for whispering those timeless words of caution, ‘all glory is fleeting, you are but a mortal man…’