This may be the new game of the King of the World, but from now on, General Pervez Musharraf will not be a dictator as he is retiring himself from the Army taking oath as civilian president. How can he play his role? This is the question everyone is asking, but one thing should be kept in mind, as compared to other politicians in Pakistan, he has character. At least he has a character of a honest person.
It is really a new test for General Pervez Musharraf. The Defence Ministry in Islamabad has confirmed that a notification of the retirement of General Pervez Musharraf as army chief has been issued. His spokesman Major General (Retd) Rashid Qureshi said on Monday that “he is going to take oath as a civilian president at 11 am on Thursday”.
Thus have come to an end nine eventful years of Pervez Musharraf as chief of the army staff (COAS) after which, unprecedentedly, he expects to be president of Pakistan for five more years, if all goes well with the country and with himself, a pretty big IF. In any case, his nine years as army chief and eight as ruler of the country still have to be analysed and digested.
We can say one thing for sure. If we had been forced to assess his rule last year, the verdict would have been different from what it might be today. Similarly, it is possible that the verdict of today may be very different from the one that the next generation will arrive at after more water has flowed under the bridge.
Most ruler-generals in the past did not even try to make the kind of political transition from outright military to managed civilian rule that General Musharraf has tried to accomplish. But his trajectory was no different from past military rulers in that he failed to do what he had set out to do under the spur of the training he had received as a soldier and what he had absorbed as “Pakistani nationalism” via his army school. In some ways his Kargil adventure — shortly after he had been “selected” out of turn by the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif amid the triumphalism of a nuclear test in Balochistan — was also the kind of setback that few predecessors had to cope with. So his removal was on the cards before 9/11 happened in the United States, but was botched by a prime minister who enjoyed a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and was feeling heady after firing one army chief a year earlier in quest of absolute rule as Amir ul Momineen.
What General Musharraf did after 9/11 was an act of extreme daring. Those who say that thinking “out of the box” comes easy when you are facing stark choices with no exit in sight forget that none of his fellow generals would have found it easy to carry on with what has amounted to an overturning of a particular brand of Pakistani nationalism and the Pak-army’s fatally static indoctrination. His Islamist and born-again companion-generals were only half-cocked in their intent to take Pakistan out of the old grooves. But he took in hand policies that practically amounted to a rollback of GHQ’s old-fixed India policy and its pursuit of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan whose consequences were later to confront him with more defeats in the realm of domestic policy. So he is perhaps the only general with more failures than successes to his name, but he has survived only because the nation he ruled has succumbed to an isolationist fever and forced the world to support him after political support for him at home began to evaporate completely in 2007.
A world scared of terrorism — and that includes the West and the Islamic world — supported his war against Al Qaeda. He took Pakistan’s foreign policy out of the isolationist trough that the Pakistan army’s pursuit of “strategic depth” had dug against India. This enabled the national economy to recover from the post-“nuclear test” nosedive under Nawaz Sharif. Starting 2001, he allowed private TV channels into the country and was tolerant of criticism that the ousted politicians were to offer in the shape of pure denunciation. The economy took off and the TV channels allowed the nation to freely discuss topics relating to nationalism and make space for an “alternative” view on such important issues as relations with India. After these three achievements, a spate of failures began to dog him, making 2007 “the winter of his discontent”.
He had no idea how deeply the nation had internalised what another son of the Pakistan army, General Zia-ul-Haq, had imposed on Pakistan in the shape of Islamisation with the help of a deeply fundamentalist Saudi Arabia. The “free” TV channels were forced by commercialism to peddle religious programmes, and the madrassas with their armies of jihadis could not be persuaded to turn away from their state-destroying activities. As sectarian violence touched its peak on his watch, his policy of reforming the madrassas ran aground. More secularisation of the country to make it trade-worthy did not pass muster with the conservative PML he had chosen as the King’s Party. Furthermore, the politicians who sided with him were intellectually ill-equipped to understand the national paradigm-shift he was aiming at. But they were chosen by him in the first place because he refused to consider a wider power-sharing canvas with more liberal parties in greater tune with his long term agenda.
Once he began losing the war against Al Qaeda — with loss of territory in the Tribal Areas — and Pakistani culture began to succumb to the scorched-earth tactics of Talibanisation, the time of blunders was upon General Musharraf. His end began when he tried to dismiss the chief justice of Pakistan, an ill-considered move by an ill-prepared and at times criminally negligent legal team. He then clamped down on the lawyers’ movement with great damage to his reputation, and had to impose a quasi-martial law to get rid of a Supreme Court that had become sensitive to the nation’s demand for an end to military interference in the running of the state. One bad decision was heaped upon another until he became radio-active for most Pakistanis.
Now we have a problem. As the political hurly-burly resumes in Pakistan, it has become perilous for our politicians to try to decide which part of his legacy should be rolled back to justify their comeback.