Feet of clay
FS Aijazuddin dissects the contradictions and confabulations in his commander in chief's much talked about autobiography
It is a fortunate man who can write his own obituary, and then live to read it. To that extent, President Pervez Musharraf, like the last Shah of Iran and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, has been fortunate.
He has written his autobiography, In the Line of Fire, to pre-empt his critics, ensuring that his mistakes are buried within his lifetime and only the good left interred within its pages.
Throughout his chequered life luck has been, without doubt, Musharraf's most dependable bodyguard. Once, while still a youth, he fell out of a mango tree and was feared dead. He escaped death twice during the 1965 war. On three separate occasions he continued to live because he was not on the right aircraft/helicopter at the wrong time.
He emerged unscathed from at least two botched assassination attempts. And after that famous near-crash landing in October 1999 when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to remove him as the chief of army staff while he was still air-borne, Musharraf landed safely and, turning the tables, removed Nawaz in what he describes as a counter-coup. In one swift stroke, a military Caesar managed to stab his civilian Brutus.
No wonder Musharraf prays at the outset of his autobiography that he should be granted more than a cat's proverbial nine lives: nine are obviously not enough, at least not to accomplish all that Musharraf wishes to during his lifetime.
Had any soothsayer told Musharraf in 1985, when he was just one out of an over-crowded cadre of lieutenant colonels, that within thirteen years he would be chief of that army, he would have derided the prediction. Had any adviser cautioned him against sending regular troops masquerading as freedom fighters into the sub-zero vacuum left by the Indian troops at Kargil, he would have been equally dismissive.
Had anyone whispered in his ear when he was still the director general of military operations in 1992 that a Pakistani scientist, Dr Qadir Khan, was trading in second-hand nuclear technology, he would have preferred not to know. He admits: "I was kept totally out of the nuclear circuit. This was the right thing if the program had to remain under wraps.”
It zwas when North Korea's nuclear experts came to Pakistan disguised as missile engineers that Musharraf's suspicions were aroused but, even then, not sufficiently activated. He, his chief of general staff, and the director of intelligence lulled themselves into dormancy listening to Qadir Khan's glib reassurances.
All this makes fascinating reading, until one steps back and asks oneself: Surely Musharraf does not expect Pakistanis to believe that the country's foreign policy and military strategy were structured and premised on a nuclear capability that no-one in the army or in the civilian government had any information about? It was almost as if, in 1945, President Truman had decided to use the atomic bomb against Japan, but was kept deliberately in the dark about the whereabouts of his atomic arsenal by the Pentagon and Robert Oppenheimer.
When the history of Musharraf's years of enlightened moderate governance is written (as opposed to ghost-written), it will not be his facile explanations nor achievements as an adroit opportunist that will be the measure of his success. It will be his special friendship with US President, George W Bush, for it is this support, and this support alone, that underwrites his survival.
Is there a life for Musharraf after the national elections he has promised in 2007? Barring unforeseen accidents, there is no visible reason, either at home or abroad, that could thwart his stream of continuity. Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and Altaf Hussein are likely to remain affluent emigres, plotting rather than planning a return to the country whose judicial system they have done much to subvert and, understandably, can no longer trust. Locally, Musharraf has no rivals -- in or out of uniform. He sees himself as a de Gaulle towering over political pygmies.
His contempt for his superiors, his colleagues, and his rivals is undisguised. He describes General Karamat as "meek," General Ali Quli Khan (a Sandhurst sword of honour) as "a mediocre officer," Nawaz Sharif -- the prime minister he ousted and exiled -- as behaving like a schoolboy and, still worse, "paranoid."
Even his chosen prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, is compressed to size. He recounts with glee how he told Shaukat Aziz of his selection as the next prime minister in the presence of guests at a dinner party. All these reveal a streak of arrogance in a man who does not foresee a gradual slide into genteel, idle retirement.
Today, Musharraf enjoys all the authoritarian power of a Caesar who survived. He surrounds himself with persons of leaner intellect such as his principal secretary, Tariq Aziz ("an old and trusted friend"), and Chaudhry Shujaat and his nephew Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, whom he describes without any shred of verifiable evidence as "good men."
He cares not to remember that one of Nawaz Sharif's "goons" who had stormed the Supreme Court in 1998 was Mushahid Hussain Syed, or that after the take-over in 1999, he kept Mushahid securely incommunicado for almost a year. Mushahid Hussain, it will be recalled, had leapt to fame by introducing the Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar to Dr Qadir Khan who then obligingly revealed to Kuldip that Pakistan had nuclear capability.
Today, Mushahid is the trusted secretary-general of Musharraf's re-cycled Pakistan Muslim League (QA), and quite possibly a future prime minister in waiting. Could Musharraf have already forgotten the advice he once gave to his mentor, General Rafi Alam: "Sir, you trust people too much; you could be taken for a ride."
Musharraf suspected that he had been by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when they met at Agra in July 2001. He thought he had struck a deal with him. Exuberant, Musharraf returned to his hotel to change for the signing ceremony, and learned to his dismay soon afterwards that the deal was off. The Indian cabinet had rejected it. "Which cabinet?" Musharraf asked. "There is no cabinet in Agra."
During the farewell call on Vajpayee, that Musharraf says he made reluctantly, Musharraf taunted the Indian prime minister with the observation that "there seemed to be someone above the two of us who had the power to overrule us." Musharraf did not have God in mind. He suspected it was the same democratic cabal -- "the bureaucrats, diplomats, and intelligence agencies, and perhaps even the military" -- that, according to him, hinders Vajpayee's successor Sardar Manmohan Singh from thinking "outside the box."
Musharraf's sense of exasperation is comprehensible when one recalls the question he asked over 50 million of his countrymen to vote on in the referendum he called in April 2002: "For the survival of the local government system, establishment of democracy, continuity of reforms, end to sectarianism and extremism, and to fulfill the vision of Quaid-e-Azam, would you like to elect General Pervez Musharraf as President of Pakistan for five years?" The voters were not given a choice as much as an ultimatum.
Musharraf had hoped that the referendum would provide him with a pre-dated sanction for what he had already appropriated. His administration saw to it that he obtained the unequivocal mandate he craved. They rigged the referendum to such a degree that even he -- its beneficiary -- felt obliged to come clean and to apologize to the public.
Simultaneously president and chief of army staff, Musharraf bestrides his country like a colossus in a khaki toga, unlike his Indian counterpart whom he sees constricted within the coils of a coalition. He genuinely cannot understand why the Indians will not agree with him, no more than he can understand why Pakistanis cannot do his bidding. He has managed to train them to salute a uniform, but somehow he cannot get them to march in step nor in QuickTime.
His recent speeches reveal a note of exasperation, almost desperation, as he sees his avowed goal -- Pakistan as "a dynamic, progressive, and moderate Islamic state" -- slip beyond his grasp, and perhaps beyond his tenure. However pure and altruistic Musharraf's intentions may be, he shares the predicament of a Texan rodeo rider -- how does one dismount safely, and when?
To his admirers, Musharraf's candid autobiography provides a window into his heart; to his publishers, a window of lucrative opportunity; to his critics, a window into the darker recesses of his schizophrenic mind that can allow him to follow two contrary policies simultaneously; and to posterity, a window that masquerades as a door opening into the future of history.
Early in its pages, Musharraf draws a revealing analogy between a potter's craft and the preparation of an army cadet. "A cadet in a military academy is like clay on the wheel. When he is shaped, he is let loose in the oven of army life. How good a soldier he becomes depends on the fire that bakes him every day of his life in the army."
For civilians who every day watch the inexorable permeation by the terracotta soldiers of the Pakistan army into every aspect of the governance of their country, the analogy with a potter is all too apposite -- even down to the feet of clay.
FS Aijazuddin is an eminent Pakistani scholar and editor.