Page 1 of 2 Musharraf not the problem, or solution
By M K Bhadrakumar
The "war on terror", as it winds down and begins heading for the exit tunnel,
has secured its fifth and, possibly final victim - Pervez Musharraf of
Pakistan. It is hard not to recall that the flamboyant general and president
was doomed from the day he hitched his star to George W Bush's war wagon almost
seven years ago.
Equally, it must be recalled that he had no real choices in the matter. In that
sense, his ultimate fate was more poignant than that of the other four
political "victims" in the Bush era - Spain's Jose-Maria Aznar, Australia's
John Howard, Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Britain's Tony Blair.
Therefore, Musharraf's political epitaph cannot be written without
recalling that if he finally found himself left with no supportive domestic
civilian constituency, it was primarily because in the eyes of the overwhelming
majority of Pakistanis, including the Westernized sections of the middle class,
their president was a "burnt out case".
He demeaned Pakistan by being subservient to foreign masters and in the common
perception, rightly or wrongly, he compromised the country's sovereignty. Alas,
no one remembers that each time a US aircraft fired missiles violating
Pakistani territorial integrity and killed innocent Pakistani civilians, the
country felt humiliated. Its national pride took a relentless beating. And no
self-respecting people in any country would forgive their president for
allowing that to happen.
It is no small wonder that Musharraf lasted as long as he did, juggling with
the competing imperatives that the "war on terror" generated - an army
unwilling to fight for an unconvincing cause and a superpower with killer
instincts forcing it to fight; the interplay of civilian and military power
within Pakistan. There were also the rising waves of Islamic militancy and the
imperatives of modernization, the demands of elections and the legitimacy of
power, and the sheer daunting business of governing a ravaged country that,
sadly, never quite knew the rule of law.
He was a quintessential military man. Not only did Musharraf not make any bones
about it, he took immense pride in it. There is no shred of evidence that he
advanced a personal agenda as national policy. His policies were invariably the
collective decisions of the collegium of Pakistani army commanders. You could
tell that from a mile. He could be authoritarian, as he proved when he locked
horns with the judiciary that he sacked last year - which ultimately proved his
undoing - and, arguably, he could have done more for reviving democracy.
But, paradoxically, it was under his rule that Pakistanis tasted the
extraordinary power of public discussion regarding the corridors of power and
politics and the life and times of their politicians and power brokers. It was
breathtakingly exhilarating to see Pakistanis revel on TV chat shows. Of
course, the free, lively media and the increasingly assertive civil society
eventually proved to be Musharraf's undoing as corrupt politicians simply
walked in at a late hour and plucked the ripe fruits of popular disaffection.
Nonetheless, it draws attention to the glaring contradiction that the general
was in many respects.
There can be no two opinions that it is Musharraf's legacy that Pakistan's
political maturation happened under his stewardship. This is not to minimize
the importance of the restoration of representative rule in Pakistan. But a
sense of proportions is called for.
Pakistan's problems are deep-rooted. The Gordian knot is not going to be easy
to be cut. There is no Alexander in view, either. Pulitzer-winning
investigative journalist Ron Suskind's recently released book The Way of the
World displays dozens of skeletons tumbling out of the cupboards of the
Bush presidency, among them a handful of Pakistani ones. They are just a
handful, but delightfully sufficient to reveal the extent to which former
premier Benazir Bhutto had become an American pawn in the final years of her
tragic life - she was assassinated last December.
The fact is, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) taped, according to
Ruskind, even the telephone conversation between Bhutto and her son, Bilawal,
when the mother passed on to the son the details of secret foreign bank
accounts where the family loot - estimated to run into hundreds of millions of
dollars - is kept. Not only that, the CIA let Bhutto know it knew the bank
Let us face it, her widower, Asif Zardari - head of the Pakistan People's Party
(PPP) in the ruling coalition, is the US's new front man in Pakistan. He would
know it isn't for his good if he strays from the US's orbit. The same old game
continues - a surrogate regime in Islamabad headed by people who are hopelessly
compromised to Washington at the personal and political level. Fundamentally,
the US objective is to have a democratically elected government in Islamabad,
which along with its counterparts in New Delhi and Kabul will be willing to
subserve US regional policies.
In other words, Pakistan's curse remains. The US has no intentions of leaving
the Pakistanis to find the rhythm of life on their own. This time, the US
stranglehold will be far more sophisticated - less obtrusive and primarily
subterranean - but with widespread tentacles running systematically and
thoroughly into nooks and corners of Pakistani society well beyond the army
cantonments. This time, the US will put to use the enormous experience it has
gained in the post-Soviet years in neighboring Delhi in perfecting the art of
manipulating world of politics, the strategic community, media, think-tanks and
corporate houses in the South Asian cultural environment.
The discourses in Pakistan are already showing disturbing signs of the Delhi
syndrome. They are beginning to lose their elan of the Musharraf era. Uncle Sam
is increasingly characterized as a benign presence that helped Pakistan get rid
of a bad dictator. (Indians have been sold the dream that the US is determined
to make their country a first-rate world power.) True, Pakistan is relatively
still opinionated, but how long can it remain so?
The lesson learned in Delhi is that American diplomacy has learned that
Washington doesn't really need a military dictatorship to influence a South
Asian country's policies or power. There is a third way - corrupt the elites.
It doesn't cost that much in the South Asian milieu - even with a weak dollar.
In fact, democratically elected governments can be the US's ideal
interlocutors. Then, there is always the mesmerizing "civil society" (which has
nothing to do with the real India or Pakistan), which is at the beck and call
of US diplomacy. Pakistan is on the threshold of witnessing an explosive
mushrooming of US-funded non-governmental organizations, similar to India's in
the past decade and a half.
Musharraf charms Indians
That is why, despite all the failings of his controversial nine-year rule,
which are too obvious and tiresome to recall, a nagging question will always
remain: "Was Musharraf the real problem, even if he wasn't the solution?"
Musharraf certainly wasn't the problem for neighboring Indians. During the last
four years of the Musharraf era, Delhi enjoyed a climate of relations with
Islamabad largely free of tensions. Top Indian officials publicly acknowledged
that Musharraf reined in the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), even
though the infrastructure supporting the violence was never quite dismantled.
Mutual confidence came to a point where back-channel diplomacy actually made
headway. There was speculation that a framework agreement on the Kashmir
problem might not be a hopeless task to achieve.
Evidently, for the Indian security establishment, Musharraf wasn't the problem
in recent years, no matter all the general's past behavior, such as his
military (mis)adventure into Indian territory at Kargil in July 1999. The
intriguing question is whether Delhi made optimal use of the general's period
Delhi's equations with the general were very poor in the beginning. When his
coup took place in October 1999, Delhi was profoundly embarrassed that the man
they loathed to see in power had indeed grabbed it. Delhi took a foolish,
impractical "hawkish" line - the easiest thing to do in diplomacy is to be
"hawkish" when you're short of creative ideas - to the effect that it wouldn't
deal with the "usurper" in Islamabad. Delhi even took the initiative to have
Pakistan expelled from the Commonwealth.
Probably, Musharraf estimated that Indian diplomats were misreading the
situation and making churlish recommendations to their political masters. Delhi
would eventually have no choice but to deal with him on the hijack of an Indian
airliner to Kandahar in Afghanistan in 2000. He proved right. From that point
there was no turning back: the general got what he wanted - political
engagement by the wise Indian leadership, likely bypassing intransigent
The engagement had its ups and downs initially, but as it stabilized, it began
deepening, and over time the general began coming up with "out-of-the-box"
solutions to India-Pakistan disputes. Looking back, India should have tested
him at this word - at least selectively. But old suspicions lingered and for
the past three years at least, Indian foreign policy was fixated on negotiating
a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the US with hardly any creative
energies left for other fronts. Meanwhile, the general's position weakened
dramatically. Historically speaking, an opportunity was lost. But that need not
be the end of the story.
Delhi looks past Musharraf
Musharraf's departure didn't come as a shock to Delhi. At any rate, it came as
a slow-moving black-and-white movie with a fairly predictable climax.
India-Pakistan relations will receive a kick-start if a Zardari-led government
settles down in Islamabad. Delhi has excellent equations with the PPP
leadership. Besides, Washington can be expected to promote ties between the two