|Carry on General, Strip yes but Don’t Tease
by Wajid Shamsul Hasan
April 16, 2002
It looked like a rerun of some Sultan Rahi’s Punjabi film when Pakistan’s fourth military ruler—General Pervez Musharraf— announced his crash landing in Pakistan’s ‘dirty politics’ with no holds barred. Like Hitler he had his uniform on and in his maiden performance as a public speaker, the language that he used and the facts that he distorted, he made himself sound a bigger demagogue then the founder of Nazi party. You can rest assured that the man would use every questionable trick in the bag to have an overwhelmingly positive vote in the one-man referendum called for April 30 to secure him in the Presidential Office for another five years and who knows how many more.
Why did he choose referendum? “Were any other options available to the general?” asks London’s Economist. “He does not think so, probably rightly. If, after the election still due in October, he had asked the new parliaments to elect him president, there was no guarantee that they would. Indeed, the possibility of revolt was high since the two main parties, with or without enemies Miss Bhutto and Mr Sharif, might well have joined hands to thwart or even impeach him. Now he can become the president with a veneer of legitimacy and then amend the constitution before the parliamentary election so that he can retain the upper hand over the next parliament and the elected prime minister” believes Economist.
Prior to opting out for referendum as the only viable course for his survival in office to “carry on his reforms” Musharraf and his think tankers debated a great deal over “other means’ that could legitimise him in office. His ISI Chief and his Principal Secretary tried their best to create a formidable King’s Party by collecting all the robber barons. They also got him support from the Tonga parties and known political orphans. But when they arithmetically put it together it amounted to 0+0=0. What hurt Musharraf most was their failure to break Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party.
PPP’s firm “NO” to have truck with him left Musharraf with no other option but to go for referendum. Generals, his cabinet colleagues and legal experts like Sharifuddin Pirzada (who has the reputation of bailing out military dictators in the past) agreed that Musharraf should opt for referendum rather than bank on the results of a general election that would elect a National Assembly and four provincial assemblies that would form the ultimate electoral college for the election of a President.
Musharraf has confirmed that many others, however, advised him not to hold referendum. They told him that the thin turn out of the voters as experienced in the previous two referendums held by generals Ayub Khan (1962) and Ziaul Haq (1984) would be more of an embarrassment for him rather than a vote for legitimacy. He was also conveyed that Referendum would signal the beginning of his end.
Musharraf, being a commando, claims that he is not afraid of “taking risks and encountering danger”. However, according to Pakistani experts, there is something more than meets the eye. Musharraf’s urgency to seek domestic legitimacy through Referendum organised, funded and manipulated by ISI emanates from the fact that he fears fast erosion of his power and weakening of his internal grip over the affairs of the state. Besides that, he also fears his impeachment for violating the constitution (Article 6-under which death is the penalty for act of treason) for overthrowing an elected government.
There are people in Islamabad who say that of late Musharraf seems to have lost control of himself. In this context analysts refer to the recent Islamabad church bomb blast, execution of Daniel Pearl and increasing sectarian killings—a grim law and order situation that has forced his masters to express no confidence in his ability to rule and compelled the United States to withdraw its people from its diplomatic missions in Pakistan.
It is also learnt that during the course of the debate with his fellow generals Musharraf was shocked to note an oblique reference that it would be difficult for Musharraf to continue holding three offices in one go, that is, President, Supreme Commander of the country and Chief of the Army Staff. The obvious implication was that Musharraf would have to give up the position of the Chief of the Staff of the Army.
The very thought of giving up Army Chief’s uniform “raises the hair at their ends” as Shakespeare put it. In the proposition that he will have to quit the post of army chief lies Musharraf’s dilemma. Denuded of COAS’s uniform Musharraf would be like Samson without his hair. Besides that, once Musharraf ceases to be Chief of Army Staff his extra-ordinary ability to serve American interests would become minimal and his importance in the eyes of Washington as Bush’s blue-eyed boy would be eroded. Washington would prefer to work with the new COAS who would have total command over the affairs and conduct of the army and ISI.
Political pundits believe that excessive bravado in his speeches and his most blatant attacks on Pakistan’s two former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are sure signs that the ground under him is slipping. One American source has confirmed that many in Washington feel that their man Friday “ is running out of steam”.
Though Bush Administration is not that much of enthusiastic for return of democracy in Pakistan as it was prior to 9-11, under the pressure of American Congressmen it carries on lip service to it. However, its Assistant Secretary for South Asia Christina Rocca, while commenting on referendum, said it was an internal matter of Pakistan—a matter for its people and courts to decide. Her statement amounts to non-interference in Pakistan’s internal matters but it is being interpreted by Musharrafiites as a message of support to win referendum by hook or by crook forgetting what Colin Powell had said the other day that Musharraf has been told to hold transparent general elections.
However, according to intelligence sources (non-ISI) in Pakistan, Americans are not happy over what they call, ISI’s renewed flirtations with Jihadi elements including their recently freed leaders and hardline supporters. They feel that Musharraf’s strategy is to use clandestinely Jesh-i-Muhammad and Laskhare-e-Tayyaba’s muscle power in the referendum.
Known analysts who paddle CIA’s point of view have expressed their apprehensions that “a successful referendum vote turning on the support of ISI-backed religious fanatics desperate for a way back into Islamabad’s power circles” would be an annoying message for Washington—that the Jihadis may be back.
People of Pakistan who are tightening their belts and getting ready to defeat Musharraf’s war against democracy, feel encouraged by the support that the Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon has extended to them by his criticism of Musharraf’s referendum. In a statement issued in London the other day, Don McKinnon reminded the General that the road map by Musharraf for the restoration of democracy did not include holding of such a referendum.
World leaders like Don McKinnon who value commitments do not understand that military dictators do not mean what they say and especially those of Musharraf’s commando vocation only know one thing—how to get what they want. Their approach to life is psychopathic and they consider lack of virtue in them as the key to their success. Musharraf’s career is full of “about-turns” and he can come up with a volte-face whenever a situation demands. If an occasion arrives when his commando instinct will tell him what is good for his survival, he would do yet another “about-turn” to race to the Sharifs Raiwand Estate to seek forgiveness at the feet of Abajee much in the similar way that he had done when he wanted to secure his position as chief of staff.
Instead of misleading the people about what Benazir Bhutto did not do, he should stick to his regime’s performance in his referendum campaign since there is no other candidate but him. He had promised in his first address to the nation in October 1999 that he would revert Pakistan to Quaid’s democracy, there would be good governance, economy would be retrieved, that the writ of the state would be re-established, billions of bad debts would be recovered and that there would not be selective accountability.
Return to Quaid’s democracy remains an elusive dream. What he gave to the people in the name of devolution of power is a cocktail of Ayub Khan’s basic and General Zia’s rootless democracy that divided the society, promoted biradarism and encouraged fissiparous tendencies all over. Musharraf had a hidden agenda to remain in power for ever and ever but was restricted by the Supreme Court that bound him to hold elections by October 2002. It did not give him the power to extend his tenure as Chief of Army Staff, to self-appoint himself as president nor did it mandate recourse to referendum to legitimise what has been an unconstitutional rule.
Musharraf had promised good governance and restoration of the writ of the state. Yes, Musharraf has given a new meaning to both by bad management, militarisation of the civil services and license to kill given as a blank cheque to sectarian killers and the underworld that have made life of the innocent citizens short, nasty and brutish. We have already mentioned earlier of the extent of confidence shown in his good governance and writ of the state by the United States that has very wisely concluded that to save the lives of its citizens the best course would be to get out of Musharraf’s Pakistan. Most alarming outcome of Musharraf’s ‘good governance and restoration of the state’ is manifested in the growing worldwide perception that Pakistan is a failed state, it is not a safe place for investment due to a deplorable law and order situation and rampant sectarian killings, attacks on churches, mosques and imambarghas.
Musharraf has been using Goebbels language most profusely in taking the people for a ride on a socalled good economic performance that is not there. In his two self-claimed referendum winning speeches (Lahore and Bannu) he has given distorted figures to hoodwink the masses. The position of bad debts or classified loans when Moin Qureshi took over was Rs 110 billion. During Nawaz Sharif’s last tenure it had risen to Rs 180 billion. Today bad debts (or classified loans) stand at Rs 335 billion. Musharraf had promised to recover them. Yes, he has just managed to convert a molehill into a mountain of recovery. Throughout his 30-month rule Musharraf and his aides have been making claims of industrial production in miles while country has moved in inches. According to independent figures industrial production has not grown beyond 2 per cent against the projected 5 per cent target. Unemployment in the country since his takeover has grown to 40 per cent and every year we will be adding another 900,000 educated youth remaining unemployed. Experts say that the galloping unemployment has been responsible for record number of suicides, dacoits and money-related crimes.
Good management as promised by him in revenue collection continues to be a cry in wilderness. His regime’s projected target of Rs 430 billion has been downsized twice in the last eight months. Collection is now expected to be between Rs 390 and Rs 400 billion. Obviously this means budget deficit will increase. Foreign trade is down by ten per cent while exports were projected to be US$10 billion. They would hardly go beyond US$ 8.5 billion incurring a shortfall of US$1.5 billion.
The only feather in his cap that Musharraf can claim is that Pakistan’s Foreign exchange reserves have grown to US$ 5 billion. And the reasons for such a phenomenal rise are not hard to find and leave not much room for self- glorification. It is said that there is always a silver lining under the dark clouds. Thanks to the deplorable tragedy of 9-11 and Pakistan’s assumption of a front line role in American war against Muslim terrorism, Islamabad’s foreign loans have been rescheduled for 20 to 30 years, IMF and World Bank have released post-September loans, money laundering has been restricted by new laws and finally the sense of insecurity to keep money abroad has resulted in a major increase in remittances by expatriate Pakistanis.
Like his foot-in-the-mouth-diseased ISPR media-mongers, Musharraf too has been resorting to using perceptions that have no relations with facts. In his Lahore and Bannu speeches before the stage-managed ‘mammoth crowd’ he referred out of context to some of Benazir Bhutto’s utterances. He accused her of talking about a common currency between India and Pakistan, opening up of borders and calling foreign fighters in Kashmir as terrorists. He also charged that she had ordered removal of Kashmir House board in Islamabad when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was visiting Pakistan in 1989. He also said she had made Taliban and described them as “our children”. He claimed that Pakistan was dubbed to be a terrorist state. “We gave it a respectable place. We have highlighted Kashmir issue”. He has been critical of her power policy and what he called increased rates that “pushed the country into economic crises”.
No doubt Benazir Bhutto did talk of common currency but it was not between India and Pakistan. Speaking before a Indo-Pakistan Joint Parliamentarian seminar in Islamabad on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore in 1999 she had envisioned creation of SAARC Common market on the pattern of European Common Market with the ultimate objective of soft borders like Europe and development of a SAARC common currency. In November last year Bhutto was invited by the Confederation of Indian Industry to address a seminar on the empowerment of women. Throughout her visit she raised Kashmir as a core issue, reiterated the right of self-determination sanctioned by the United Nations to the people of Kashmir and urged upon India to talk to All-Parties Kashmir Hurriyet Conference (APHC) as the sole representative of the Kashmir people without prejudice to Pakistan’s traditional stand. She, however, underscored that the indigenous Kashmiri intifada was damaged by cross-border terrorists who had given a pretext to India to isolate Pakistan in the comity of nations as a sponsor of international terrorism.
Bhutto had been urging upon Musharraf to distance Pakistan away from Taliban and organisations such as Jesh-i-Muhammad and Lashkare-e-Tayyaba. He did not listen to her sane advise in good time and waited to be warned by the Americans that they would “not save his bacon” if India attacked Pakistan using the right of hot pursuit. Not only he buckled before the American ‘threat’ but at their instance begged Prime Minister Vajpayee to grant him audience and talk to him.
In his post-9-11 visit to the United States Musharraf had scolded a Pakistani journalist when he described Jesh-i-Muhammad and Lashkare-e-Tayyaba already declared as terrorist organisations, as terrorists. Following the attack on Srinagar Assembly and Indian Parliament when Delhi moved its troops for action against Pakistan, American good offices were sought to avert a war and General Musharraf in his January 12 speech post haste, not only banned Jesh-i-Muhammad and Lashkare-e-Tayyaba along with others but had a crackdown on Jihadis and had both Maulana Masood Azhar and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed arrested. Musharraf needs to be reminded that Jesh-i-Muhammad was formed when he was in power after he ousted Nawaz Sharif. Maulana Masood Azhar and now-declared by him as Indian agent Saeed Omar Sheikh (main accused in Daniel Pearl’s murder) were not only allowed to parade through out Pakistan brandishing guns but were also looked after by his premier intelligence agency. It would be music for our ears now if Musharraf dares to call today both Maulana Masood Azhar and Saeed Sheikh as Mujahideen as they were to him from early 2000 until the Americans turned their guns on them.
As regards Musharraf’s allegation that Benazir Bhutto had ordered removal of Kashmir House board during Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Islamabad, one can express pity on such a sick state of mind. It has been established beyond any iota of doubt and Musharraf knows it too well, that it was ISI operatives that had done to embarrass Bhutto and to flog her later through a vicious media campaign that included the charge against her Interior Minister Itezaz Ahsan of passing over the list of Sikh terrorists allegedly trained by Pakistan and operating in Indian Punjab.
It is utter dishonesty and it does not befit a man who wants to be the permanent President of Pakistan (PPP) to accuse Benazir Bhutto, nay any elected government in post-1988 period, of running the Afghan policy. If Musharraf, as a general, is ignorant of the fact that the Afghan policy, its execution and the creation of Taliban were entirely in the hands of ISI –he does not deserve to be where he is today. Yes, one has heard of General Naseerullah Khan Babar’s oft-qouted remark that “Taliban are my Bachas” but since he belongs to fraternity of holy cows, none of the generals has ever dared to question him. Obviously Babar knows much too much about the Taliban and the ISI and if he is provoked into it he might spill the beans.
Musharraf represents an institutional wretched mindset. He mentions about Bhutto’s investment in power sector and higher rates. He does not have a heart large enough to acknowledge the fact that Pakistan’s owes it all to Bhutto for converting a country living in the dark into a load-shading free society. Besides that, he does not have the moral courage to accept that both Bhutto father and daughter made Pakistan an impregnable fortress when one walked to gallows to provide Pakistan nuclear deterrence and the other annoyed the Americans by giving Pakistan its missile power.
Last but not the least, a word about Kashmir and Pakistan as a terrorist state. Any tin pot soldier cannot undermine Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s contribution to the Kashmiri cause. It is also a fact that Kashmir as the core issue was put in the back burner for almost ten years by General Ziaul Haq. He was much too busy fighting the Afghan war for the Americans. Kashmiris raised the banner of their intifada just when Benazir Bhutto came in power. They had confidence in her and they knew she would not betray them, come what may. Zia had isolated Pakistan even among the Muslim nations. It was Benazir who revived OIC’s interest in it during her first tenure and in the second she got APHC status of an Observer in the OIC besides she skilfully internationalised it as a humanitarian issue.
It was her singular achievement that during her government for the first time in 52 years of Kashmir’s occupation that British Labour Party adopted a statement in October 1995 accepting the fact that Kashmir was a core issue that needed to be resolved on the basis of UN Resolutions granting its people right of self-determination.
Finally, General Musharraf must remember that if Pakistan was ever under threat of being dubbed a terrorist state, it was not because of Benazir Bhutto but due to others who were fond of running a state within the state and described as “rogue’ in an international advertisement during Nawaz Sharif’s time. As a matter of fact when Pakistan was about to be declared a terrorist state in 1993 Nawaz Sharif begged of her to visit the United States and save Pakistan from becoming a pariah state. Bhutto’s statesmanship and international clout saved Pakistan from the ignoble embarrassment.