Pervez Musharraf
File image of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf | Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
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Truth caught up with the dictator & he was banished. His delusions are back, from calling LeT “our own” to seeking exiled Baloch activists’ assassination.

To be fair to Gen. Pervez Musharraf, he had given me my I-told-you-so moment a decade ago when he was exiled in 2008.

A few months after he had overthrown an elected government enjoying a two-thirds majority and jailed its popular prime minister Nawaz Sharif, I had written in July 2000 that there were only four ways a dictator ends up in Pakistan: assassinated or jailed by successors or exiled or disgraced, usually after waging a war on India and losing. Ayub, Bhutto, Zia and Yahya had each met one of these fates.

This left Musharraf with no room for complacence, I said. He had taken over power at the very young age of 55, and since the option of retiring at 60 and going home in peace to play golf was no longer available to him, he needed to plan his future seriously. The only way he could hope to escape the fate of all of Pakistan’s earlier dictators was to become a legitimate politician quickly, allow real elections against real opponents (not by exiling Benazir, Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain of MQM, as he did) and win or lose.

Instead, he only proved us right, first by being exiled in disgrace, and then with his equally unceremonious (makes you wonder sometimes if that word was invented to describe the end of dictators) arrest. We cannot and will not wish anybody a fate worse than this now. This gave me the fullest vindication and I was happy to proclaim him terminally delusional.

It is just that he also is incorrigibly so. The unseating of Nawaz Sharif has created a power vacuum in Pakistan and he sees an opening. That’s why he is back to his headline-hunting ploy, cursing India, praising Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed and now, in a recorded interview with a prominent Pakistani anchor, advising his government to assassinate exiled Baloch activists and then deny it. “Everybody is doing it,” he says for effect. This is Delusion with capital D.

In predicting this inevitable future for Musharraf early on, the one thing I was guilty of was repetitiveness. Between July 2000 and early 2001, I repeated the point in several ‘National Interest’ articles (Peace needs daring, 9 December, 2000; Mindreading Musharraf, 16 December, 2000; A guide to the Pak army, 23 December, 2000) and it wasn’t just because my guru in journalism and much else, Arun Shourie, had taught us a somewhat unconventional lesson, at least not something they’d teach you in journalism schools – that you should never underestimate the power of repetition. Because people have short memories.

I realised soon enough how right Arun Shourie had been, as usual. That repeated warning had got to Musharraf. After one of his customary annual lunches for senior media leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Musharraf, whom I had never met or interviewed one-on-one, gestured to me to hang on while we were all trooping out. He asked me if I was indeed so-and-so. And when I pleaded guilty as charged, he told me how he and his colleagues used to think I was well informed on Pakistani politics, how they used to read my coverage of their country even in their senior officers’’ academies and staff college, but how hopelessly I had now lost touch and was making silly statements.

“The stupidest of all,” he said, “is that rubbish you keep repeating about one of the four ways a Pakistani dictator always goes and that I will also go like that.””

I said, General, sir, if all other dictators have gone this way, why should there be an exception now? That is my limited point.”

“That is the blunder you make, a completely wrong presumption,” he said. “You presume stupidly that I am a dictator. Pakistan has never seen more democracy than now. Ask all your friends in the Pakistani media whom I know well, go ask them,” he continued admonishing me.

Much as I would have liked to say something like, let’s put all this to the test of time, I tried to calm things down by saying something facetious like, oh, I was wiser in the past maybe because I had a very wise editor (pointing at Aroon Purie who was present there). But Musharraf wasn’t one to forgive, or forget.

He was the main speaker at India Today’s conclave in March 2004. I reminded him, with no intention or hint of mischief, that 72 democracies around the world (including India) were going for elections in that year. And so when was Pakistan going to have its own?

This was enough to get him into a rage. What made me think Pakistan had no democracy? Each country had the right to choose its own system. And, he thundered, in any case, even my asking that question amounted to interfering in his country’s internal affairs. (Read the full exchange here).

What do both sets of exchanges tell you? That Musharraf is a deeply, terminally delusional man who passionately believed his own mythologies: that by overthrowing, jailing and exiling a prime minister enjoying a two-thirds majority, he had only restored real democracy in Pakistan, and that his people loved him as a liberal democrat as they had loved no other but Jinnah. And now if he starts not only justifying LeT but also calls to assassinate Baloch leaders, fellow Pakistanis will forgive his sins, welcome him back, and install him in power again.

Only a buccaneering, uniformed fool like that could believe that stealthily taking a 10-km-deep strip of territory in Kargil would bring India to its knees. Or now, continue believing that his people are missing him so desperately that millions would line the streets to welcome him back, and that would guarantee his security against the judiciary he had jerked around so rudely.

As for his maturity, ask Vajpayee, Advani and  Jaswant Singh, people who dealt with him in Agra. In one-on-one negotiations, he would pull out of his pocket the folded text of the joint declaration being negotiated, with changes made in long hand, and ask Vajpayee to initial them with him jointly. And when Vajpayee would remind him that he had to clear things with his cabinet colleagues, he would say something like, but you are the prime minister and I am the president, why can’t we just decide? That was his understanding of how democracies function. Vajpayee’s own description of Musharraf’s approach was, wahiyaat, ekdum bachpana (silly, utterly childish).

Musharraf, of course, returned the compliment by telling his aides Vajpayee took so long processing the answer to any question he raised, that his processor must be a 286, not Pentium. It is a different matter that both the NDA, and later the UPA, decided to take a pragmatic view of Musharraf, particularly in the post-9/11 world, and made some useful progress in negotiations.

However loud and outrageous he may be, Musharraf is now history. A silly and sad chapter in it, or maybe just a footnote. Worse, in some ways, than the mouse that roared, only because he was so stupid (and I am not trying to get even) as to confuse usurped dictatorial power with popularity, the usual darbari sycophancy for adulation, and the post-9/11 caressing of his tail by the Americans as a certificate of global statesmanship. That is why he made the mistake of returning to Pakistan the first time (I believe impressed by the number of ‘likes’ on his Facebook page) and, unwittingly, gave his countrymen the opportunity to ask some really serious questions. He ended up under arrest.

The army finally bailed him out—it would be such a bad precedent if a Pakistani former chief was sent to jail by a civilian government. He now wants to return and try his luck again.

He has quite a track record even for a Pakistani general. He carried out the Kargil operation behind the back of his constitutionally established government, lost tactically and strategically. Two, that he overthrew a legitimate, elected government with a vast majority and then subverted all institutions, not just the judiciary. Third, through his recklessness, he brought the subcontinent close to war twice: Kargil and after the Parliament attack.

The possibility that he may get a third chance is zero. The worst he can now do is entertaining tall talk on Pakistani and Indian TV channels and embarrass his country as he has now done with his “what’s wrong with Lashkar” and “assassinate the Baloch” statements.

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  1. For many people in both countries, it will be a matter of abiding regret that the peace talks between Dr. Singh and Gen. Musharraf, the four point formula, could not be taken to a graceful conclusion. That would have been wonderful for the subcontinent and given the impetuous general more than a footnote in history.

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