Sunday, September 09, 2007

Waltzing with Death: The Brilliance of Pervez

Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount- Winston Churchill

History is replete with examples of ordinary men heroically leading their people in extraordinary times. And extraordinary men falling prey to their vanity when their country needed them the most. It’s too early to say to which group General Pervez Musharaff will be consigned to in the pages of history. But the man has definitely been the pivot around which the events of the twenty-first century have unfolded. This article will make an attempt to review the actions and motives of this enigma who has continued to astound the world not just by staying alive but maintaining a vice like grip on one of the most turbulent nations in modern times.

When Musharaff took over power in 99, not many were surprised. Military coups are but a periodic phenomenon in Pakistan. Exiling Nawaz Sharif followed the bloodless coup hence by ensuring no further opposition to military rule. And then came 9/11. Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State of the United States government landed in Islamabad and met the general. He had a simple message for him. If Pakistan didn’t cooperate with America then they would be bombed back to the Stone Age. Those were Armitage’s exact words. And Musharaff took the biggest decision of his life. Turning his back on the Taliban. For the last ten years the Taliban and to a huge extent the Al Qaeda had been mollycoddled by the Pakistani secret services leading to their huge influence and power. This abrupt u-turn by musharaff was the biggest shock to the fundamentalists. Those of you who are aware the customs of the Pashtuns will know that there is no greater sin than disloyalty. Loyalty to one’s tribe and people is the only guiding principle in the otherwise lawless ravines of the Hindu Kush.

Musharaff signed his death warrant that day itself when he agreed to play host to the US army’s maneuvers before the final onslaught on Afghanistan. But he did exact his pound of flesh. Musharaff has always proved to be a better businessman than a general. After all the Kargil fiasco was his brainchild. He got billions of dollars of aid in return for becoming a frontline ally in the war against terror. He gambled that an improved economy might divert the nation’s attention away from his duplicitous foreign policy. And this did work wonderfully well till around 2005. And then things started falling apart.

Americans, true to their nature always ensure that their investments show a high degree of return. They coerced the general into making peace with India. He was forced to pull the plug on organizations like the Lashkar-e-Tayabba and Jamaat Ul Dawa. This second betrayal strengthened the resolve of the fundamentalists further. They were extremely incensed for they felt that the general had been using them for his own needs all this while and had discarded them when the purpose was over. It was at this point that Al Qaeda and Ayman Al Zawahiri in particular made it their top priority to get rid of Musharaff. This resolve was evident in the periodic release of the al Qaeda propaganda CDs. Interestingly Musharaff has been able to something that America had failed to do all this while. Create divisions in the Al Qaeda. Many in the organization felt that challenging Musharaff would be a diversion from the primary aim of engaging the Americans. That Musharaff had enough capability to make Al Qaeda presence in Pakistan difficult was well known. Hence reports do mention of a widening chasm between the Libyan and the Arab factions of the Al Qaeda with the former wanting to leave Musharaff alone.

India never had a very amicable relationship with General Musharaff. The disastrous Agra conference was the result of the clash of egos on the either side. But the Indian establishment was quick to realize that musharaff was their best bet. With him gone, Pakistan would be at the mercy of nuclear weapons wielding fundamentalists. The worst possible nightmare. Prime Minister Vajpayee was so concerned about the general’s safety that a couple of assassination attempts were avoided due to the timely tips from RAW to the ISI. For Musharaff the peace process had a downside. In the past the Pakistani leadership in their attempt to hide their incompetence would blame all ills on India. But in this atmosphere of goodwill that escape route had shuts its door on him.

The inception of the peace process with India, the slow and steady crackdown on the terror apparatus and a growing economy kept the general in the good books of the international community who were more than happy to turn a blind eye to his total disinterest in laying down his uniform or his rigging of elections. But the internal turmoil had begun to get out of hand. The unrest at Balochistan was handled terribly by the military junta resulting in a prolonged low intensity conflict which threatened to escalate into a full blown civil war. The troubles in Balochistan were nothing compared to the ones the government faced in Waziristan province. Situated in the lawless tribal lands in the north-west, Waziristan had become a hotbed of militant activity. From sheltering the higher-ups of Al Qaeda to hosting foreign militants from all over the Muslim world, Waziristan had become the biggest thorn in Pakistan’s relation with the Americans. In face of growing accusations of non-cooperation the general was forced to send in forces only to withdraw later with a humiliating ceasefire agreement with the tribal leaders.

The virtual granting of independence to Waziristan was among the first signals of the unraveling of Musharaff’s power. Of course by then the assassination attempts on him had begun. A series of close shaves later, the general decided to take some punitive action against the home grown terrorists. While arrests had been going on since 9/11, the attempts on his life spurred the security apparatus into action. Finally the Pakistan government was seen serious about the promises it had been making for quite some time.

2007 saw a major turn in his fortunes. And it came from the most unexpected of quarters. The judiciary had always played second fiddle to the leadership. Chief justice Iftikar Chowdhury who before 2007 had a very unremarkable career suddenly showed traits of judicial activism. Most of them were directed against Musharaff’s policies. Anticipating complications during his re-election bid he asked the chief justice to fall in line or to step down. The chief justice declined to do either. This standing up to the president enthused the anti-Musharaff groups like never before. Justice Chowdhury became the rallying point for all the anti-government protestors. Yet again the junta showed poor judgement. They tried to divert the nation’s attention and suppress the growing popularity of he protests by creating the Lal Masjid crises. Creating wouldn’t be a fair thing to say actually. Discontent had been simmering in Islamabad for quite some time with the Lal Masjid playing the mascot for the fundamentalists. But it wasn’t a situation which couldn’t be controlled. But Musharaff had begun to show signs of desperation. The Iftikar Chowdhury protests had grown out of control after some deadly rioting in Karachi. Lal Masjid offered the only possible diversion. As a result a week long drama played out before television crews. Musharaff came out as the leader who played tough with terrorist. When Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the militant Imam, wanted to surrender according to the terms presented, by an interesting coincidence his cell phones were found jammed. The ambush followed and scores were killed.

But this just worsened matters. The fundamentalists reaffirmed their faith in destroying the general. Another attempt on his life followed. The battle on the chief justice front too failed. Musharaff was forced to reinstate him hence by showing how much his power had declined. Like vultures over a caracass, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif declared their intent of returning to their home country. The stage was set for the final overthrow.

Musharaff, a commando by training, has stunned the world by his ability to come out of intractable situations. The world waits with bated breath to see whether he has saved his best for the last. The Americans have finally had enough of him. They desperately want a seamless transfer of power to a democratic government. The usual suspects in a general election have started gathering forces. The fundamentalists are still planning their assassination attempts. Musharaff always has the honourable exit option. America will ensure his safety in case he chooses that option. But will he?

A man who has been guided by his huge ego and strong survival instincts finally seems to have reached the end of the road. Very few will disagree that he was the best possible leader Pakistan could have who could have extracted them so brilliantly from a post 9/11 morass. His strong leadership saved the day for Pakistan. But like all dictators he has ultimately become a victim to his own vanity. The next few months will show whether he chooses head over heart and takes a quiet exit hence by avoiding the unfortunate fates of his predecessors. Or does he have a last trick up his sleeve?

* This article was my contribution to FC September, 2007.


BoFi said...


jimmy said...

u've been officially tagged!

Manojit Chaudhury said...

just been wondering, having Musharaff n Jintao as neighbours(not to forget terrorism), how safe is this country? phew!!...neways very informative article bro

Czar said...

And indeed one of the best articles!
Kudos to you saar!