In 2010, I started receiving threats on my Facebook feed. “Burn in hell, you infidel.” “Your films insult Islam!” I’m exactly the kind of person militants want dead: a liberal, secular filmmaker, and a Muslim from a minority sect—a Shia. “You deserve to have your head chopped off.” The threats and hate mail became a regular occurrence; Taliban factions had already blown up targets in different parts of the my city. I felt unsafe.
Seven thousand people had been lost to extremist violence in 2010 alone. Clearly, we needed a new strategy for handling militancy. Though general elections for president were three years away, contenders began to emerge, all vowing to tackle militancy and save Pakistan. I decided to document the process. The first step: interview candidates in search of a savior.
My choices included Nawaz Sharif, who had been charged with corruption and pandering to right-wing extremists while he was Prime Minister; and Imran Khan, frequently described as a Taliban sympathizer. With these limited options, I chose to turn to the one candidate running who I thought could save Pakistan--former dictator General Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf was living in exile in Dubai, unable to return to Pakistan lest he face charges of treason. Our first encounter involved him showing me his face on the cover of Time Magazine, with the the headline “The World’s Toughest Job?” He seemed so sweet and down-to-earth, I found it hard to take him seriously at first. He was nothing like what I’d expect from the military man who overthrew the government when I was a kid. But I’d always been grateful for his cracking down on militants at that time, and making my (Shia) family much safer. And as I got to know him, he confirmed what I most wanted to hear—he believed that violence against anyone on the basis of religion is not acceptable. I was sold.
We struck up an unlikely friendship that lasted for years. I spent time in his home—not just interviewing him about his takeover and views on politics, but eating breakfast with him, watching cricket on TV and hanging out on the beach.
Meanwhile, thousands rallied in the capital to support Islamic rule, chanting that “There are people out there who are trying to make our country liberal and secular. I say we fight jihad against them!” They eschewed all of the democratic candidates and their numbers were impressive. In such dire straits, I was convinced Musharraf was the right choice.
But everything I believed about Musharraf was suddenly shattered. In May 2011, Osama Bin Laden was killed on Pakistani soil, and Musharraf was suspected of harboring him during his rule.
Set against the backdrop of Pakistan’s ever-changing political landscape, Insha’Allah Democracy features unprecedented access to the enigmatic former leader of Pakistan, General Musharraf. The film additionally features prominent supporting voices such as cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Taliban figurehead Sami-ul-Haq.
The film chronicles my personal journey of political maturation, and the evolution of democracy in Pakistan, leading up to the country’s first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power. After spending several years with Musharraf, I realized that the only effective way to challenge any negative political force is through deeper participation in the democratic process. Ultimately this is why I made Insha'Allah Democracy. I crave for Pakistan to have a high level of political empowerment. Because walls and bans won't defeat terrorism, but finding our own democratic voice will.