This morning a friend messaged me, worried that Human Rights Watch will be screening a documentary featuring Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military dictator, at its London film festival. “You might end up glorifying a criminal,” my friend warned.
I assured my friend that Human Rights Watch’s position on Musharraf is clear – far from celebrating him, we want him to be prosecuted for the serious human rights violations that he both committed and was complicit in during his rule. Under Musharraf’s watch, the Pakistan government arbitrarily detained hundreds of critics and tortured alleged terrorism suspects. A number of opposition politicians were exiled, jailed, tortured, and murdered to enable his military rule from 1999 to 2008. Musharraf persistently undermined the right to free expression, attacking critical media. He is also named as a primary suspect in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
The film, Insha’Allah Democracy, was selected in part to remind people about Musharraf’s abuses and jumpstart a conversation about addressing them.
The film follows its director, Mohammed Naqvi, as he votes during Pakistan’s past elections and has exclusive access to Musharraf. Musharraf’s answers to Naqvi’s questions provide a rare insight into the dictator’s mind. But it should not be confused with glorifying Musharraf.
The film explores Pakistan’s history of military dictatorship and its fraught democratic experience. While Human Rights Watch does not endorse the contents of any of the films being screened, as Naqvi said, Insha’Allah Democracy is “critical of military rule and actually advocates Pakistan’s journey towards democracy.”
For Pakistan to become a rights-respecting democracy it needs to face its past – including its military dictators. Investigating and fairly prosecuting Musharraf for his alleged crimes will send a clear message to Pakistan’s present and future leaders – that no matter how powerful you become, if you commit serious abuses you cannot escape accountability.