|Attention! About Turn
January 21, 2002
During his address to the Nation in January, General Musharaf ostensibly abandoned the policy of the Establishment in backing the religious parties.
The rebirth of General Musharaf from Godfather of Taliban and Terrorism to Man of Moderation was externally driven. It was mid wifed through the ministrations of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U S Secretary of State Colin Powell in a bid to save South Asia from war.
In abandoning the three year policy of cosying up to the pro Jihadi forces, the military regime vindicated the stand of the political forces that it had long derided as “anti national security threats”. The political forces called for a crackdown against private militias long before the military regime woke to the gathering clouds of war and the international isolation its policies landed Pakistan in.
Now Pakistan has two Musharaf’s. The pre 2002 Musharaf whose plane landed safely to the throne of power piloted by hardline Generals. During those three years, General Musharaf built up a civilian structure to safeguard the rights of the pro jihadi forces in Pakistan. Most of his key lieutenants were picked from intelligence background.
The 2002 Musharaf, without apology for bringing Pakistan near a military war it least wanted, adopted peaceful co-existence principles that his opponents proclaimed all along.
In offering friendship to India, Musharaf chose the foreign policy directions of Pakistan’s first directly elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto signed the Simla Agreement in 1972. His Party signed the Islamabad Declaration of 1988 where India and Pakistan agreed not to attack each others nuclear facilities.
The September 11 bombings in the U S changed the contours of the world, but it took time for the Musharaf regime to see it. Pakistan’s political leaders insisted Musharaf distance Islamabad from the Lashkar e Tayyaba and Jaish e Mohammad. Sadly, he ignored sound advice until New Delhi, London and Washington rapped the regime on the knuckles. Then General Musharaf announced on television his new found opposition to militias and militants.
The threats to India to “lay off” emanating after the war on terror began last October , were missing from the speech. Homilies about fighting “bigger evils” with “smaller evils” were also missing. Musharaf confessed that under him the writ of government had seized to exist. This raised questions on how he could perform better henceforth. Under Pakistan’s Constitution a government which fails to run the country according to the provisions of the Constitution must cease to exist. Musharaf did not offer his resignation nor that of his cabinet.
Musharaf’s speech was a somersault on some of the Establishment’s most cherished policies. He criticised the concept of a theocratic state, the right to private militias to exist and conduct politics from the soil of Pakistan as well as force as an instrument of foreign policy with neighbour India. However, the apparatus that General Musharaf set in place when hard line Generals brought him into power, continued in place.
The inability to revamp the governmental bodies responsible for the failure to enforce the writ of state raised questions about General Musharaf’s real agenda. Analysts wondered whether the new declarations were tactical or strategic in nature and whether another somersault could come later.
General Musharaf needs to do more than please New Delhi, London and Washington. He needs to dwell on the principles of a society that can breed a violence free generation.
Such a challenge can be difficult for a regime which has gone from one crisis to another. Hardly had the noise of guns thundering on the Afghan border died down than arose the thunder of guns between Indo Pak troops. These troops still stand eye ball to eye ball threatening confrontation between two nuclear capable states.
In jumping from crisis to crisis, Musharaf is fulfilling the legacy that history dons military dictators with. War is always historically avoided under Pakistan’s democratic leaders, in contrast to its military leaders.
The military dictatorship of General Ayub embroiled Pakistan in the 1965 war followed by the much criticised Tashkent Declaration. General Yahya Khan’s military dictatorship surrendered East Pakistan in 1971. General Zia’s dictatorship lost the Siachen Glacier in 1984. He also presided over Islamabad’s involvement in the Afghan war. General Musharaf was the architect of the Kargil conflict in 1999. His inability to persuade the Taliban to extradite Bin Laden led to the World Trade Centre bombing in 2001 and the subsequent war against terror. His failure to build peace at Agra led to the biggest mobilisation of troops in 2002 since the Second World War. No one in the regime was held accountable.
The Pakistani people have rights too. The most fundamental right is the right to hold rulers accountable through fair elections. If elections are unfair, under partisan administrations, with computer hacking into the election commission to cast votes in ghost polling stations, the internal crisis in Pakistan could worsen.
An internal crisis in Pakistan could get uglier if public unhappiness is hijacked by extremist forces.
Surprisingly, General Musharaf talked about the rise of “a state within a state” in Pakistan. Political forces use that phrase to describe military intelligence agencies. Civilian leaders call them a state within a state for a reason. The reason is that civilians lack the constitutional power to promote, demote, hire, fire or court martial military officers. However, as Army Chief, Musharaf enjoys these powers. There can hardly be a “state within a state” under him. He needs to clarify what he means by the statement. If there is a disconnect between stated policy and rogue policy, the country could land between two stools.
Under democratic governments, the Pakistani soldiers earned praise in peace keeping missions. They came under criticism on three counts. First, insisting their geo strategic vision be thrust on the Parliament, second destabilising elected leaders refusing to implement their geo strategic vision and third for assuming civil duties like collecting gas bills.
Moreover, the Mujahideen did not come out of thin air. They were the children blessed by the establishment. When parents devour children to escape retribution there is public revulsion, even if a child got out of hand.
There is great sympathy with the Kashmiri people in Pakistan even if there is criticism of the infiltration of non Kashmiris in many groups. The establishment parents sent the Mujahideen to die in the icy cold of Kargil. They sent them to die in the harsh climate of a bombed Afghanistan. Perhaps a word of apology is due to past friends and foes. To those used and abused, or those persecuted, at the alter of a wrong Establishment policy. A policy that motivated young men from poor families to pick up guns while destabilising democracy and terming patriots, “traitors”.
The dangers of policies unquestioned are inbuilt in the nature of a military regime born to dictate or capitulate rather than coalesce. The danger of a war with India is hopefully averted but still far from over. Other challenges knock on the door including the rise of ethnicity that the Afghan war brings to the mountain passes of Pakistan.
A pro India government replaces a pro Pakistan regime in Kabul signalling a possible revival of Pakhtoon nationalism in the two key provinces of Balochistan and Frontier. These provinces are home to hundreds of thousands of bitter Pakhtoon Afghans as well as to disgruntled tribes.
The job of a leader is to devise policies which assess the objective condition properly and promote the well fare of the country. This the military regime was unable to do. General Musharaf addressed the Nation in September 2001 to announce joining the “lesser evil” (US) in the war against terror to get support against the “larger evil”(meaning India).
Those words were out of touch with the emerging world realities. Both the forces he called evil got together to press him to act against the militias and militants (that a crackdown against them was necessary is another matter).
General Musharaf had opportunities to build peace before the threat of war. One such opportunity was Agra. There he was pictured at the Taj Mahal and his old home rather than with an agreement in his hand. Another opportunity came and went when India and Pakistan joined the war against terrorism.
Instead New Delhi was provoked in the miscalculation that thought Uncle Sam needed Islamabad at Tora Bora and would bail it out in Kashmir. Other miscalculations included the insistence to cling on to the Taliban even after the fall of Kabul and to expect the war to continue during Ramadan when the Northern Alliance was knocking on the door of Kabul.
The last three years are a sorry saga of a sordid story gone sour.
The Establishment turned a blind eye as their surrogates in the private militias printed posters, hired trucks, established camps and exhorted young people to “join the jihad” for the “ground war” in Afghanistan. Thousands of young Pakistanis crossed over. Their dead bodies were abandoned in Afghanistan for eagles to eat without a word of remorse. Those taken prisoner are held hostage. Their captors are demanding ransom from families so poor that they sent their sons to Maddrassas to get free food and clothing.
It is this callous indifference to the human and political price paid by Pakistanis for the wrong policies followed by the military regime since it seized power in 1999 that is unacceptable to ordinary Pakistanis. The attempt to escape culpability simply does not wash.
The West accepts Musharaf for his post September 11 and January 2002 policies. The Pakistanis see his pre September 11 and pre January 2002 policies and the sufferings inflicted as a consequence.
It was the Musharaf regime that failed to get Bin Laden and prevent the World Trade Centre bombings or the B-52 daisy cluster and oxygen sucking bombs that followed in retaliation. Musharaf was the architect of Kargil as well as the architect of the failed Agra Summit. His regime is saddled with the baggage of strategic somersaults bringing with it the tar of unreliability.
The Generals expect the West and India to reward them by allowing their continuation in office given their promise to crackdown on militants. The West and India could oblige them. It would be at the cost of the Pakistani Nation.
The Shah of Iran was the policeman of the region for the free world. His policies of sidelining the democratic forces led to the Iranian Revolution from which the world has still to recover. The continuation of the military regime on the pillar of a Kings Party at war with the democratic forces plays into the hands of the religious parties. Their
very clandestine nature and linkages to the military and security apparatus gives them an edge in non democratic societies.
The one scarlet thread that runs through Islamabad’s military regime is its propensity to jump from the cooking pan into the fire. Its inability to show flexibility to its own people while bending backwards to please outside forces robs it of credibility in the country. Its confrontation with the values of peace, democracy, human rights rule of law and
justice erodes civil society. It is a regime born in violence, breeding violence and succumbing to violence. It could well find its death throes in violence.
Pakistan deserves better that a dark dictatorship repressing its Nation whilst fawning over foreign powers to cling to a power that it least deserves.