Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Support Our Journalism
HomeSG National InterestGenerally speaking

Generally speaking

In the post-colonial, post-Cold War world almost no dictator, particularly a military dictator, goes away in peace.

Text Size:

Thanks to the Jang group of newspapers in Pakistan, which also publishes The News which was at such odds with Mian Nawaz Sharif, several of our newspapers have been full of words of wisdom on Pakistan. Senior journalists, editors, pundits have all been writing long series of insights from “inside” Musharraf’s Pakistan. So what is an editor to do if he missed the bus for the India-Pakistan media seminar? As this columnist did.

Well, first of all, we have the benefit of so much wisdom, so much insight as this seminar did become Indian media’s equivalent of the carpet-bombing of Islamabad. You also couldn’t accuse these gentlemen of writing from the top of their heads, from the lobby of the Marriott Hotel or from Pakistani newspaper clips. They had first-class access, even to Musharraf and a visit to Muzaffarabad thrown in. So the portrait of Musharraf, and his Pakistan, that emerged from these writings needs to be looked at seriously. Particularly as it is now becoming evident that soon enough, probably even at the UN General Assembly session at New York coming September, Vajpayee will have no choice but to meet him for the first time. What is Musharraf likely to say to him? What should Vajpayee be telling him? Should he meet him at all?

Some aspects of his personality look obvious. One that Musharraf is an extremely charming, clever, tough and focussed man. That is just like Zia. So, while one day he can be charm personified, the next day he can nonchalantly announce, to the cream of Indian journalists, that “I will be the last man to apologise for Kargil.” Just like Zia, he is not about to give up Kashmir and, though given a chance he would want all of it, he is realistic enough to know that might not be possible. What sets him apart from Zia, however, is that he isn’t quite as much of a fundamentalist Islamist. He has tried to defend jehad, even coined for it a benign new socio-religious definition, but it is unlikely that he would run an Afghan jehad the same way that Zia did. He is more of a soldier in the old-fashioned sense who would like to be remembered as a moderniser and not somebody who ushered in nizam-e-mustafa. But what is his idea of modernising, of making a mark? Who is/are his role models?

Musharraf himself denied in The Hindustan Times interview that Kamal Ataturk was his idol. But maybe he, being a commando at heart, has never thought that far. He was pitchforked into power through a very complex set of circumstances and is perhaps only now looking at the possibilities of building, and leaving a legacy. Most of all, he must be worrying about what will happen when his reign comes to an end.

It is through this key element that we must make an assessment of what is going on in his mind. In the post-colonial, post-Cold War world almost no dictator, particularly a military dictator, goes away in peace. He is either violently overthrown, or killed or removed and left to spend the rest of his life in disgrace, at home or in exile. It was, perhaps, some of that uncertainty that persuaded him to take the unconventional title of Chief Executive instead of president or chief martial law administrator which should have come to him naturally in Pakistan. But that does not rid him of any of his insecurities, particularly as he looks behind in time at the history of dictatorship in his own country.

Also read: General Musharraf (Deluded)

Zia and Bhutto were assassinated. Yahya Khan went out in complete disgrace, held responsible for the vivisection of his nation. Field Marshal Ayub Khan? He made a mess of the 1965 war which the Pakistani elite believed he should have won in a canter, destroyed the free-market economy he had himself begun to build so successfully, and put the clock back on a Pakistan modernising even faster than India at that time, though not without a little help from the West. He was westernised but patriotic, ruthless but modern, in many ways a benign, liberal dictator who genuinely wished to modernise his country. And wrest Kashmir. Though he lost power unceremoniously he was never held in the same disgrace as Yahya Khan. His family has continued even now to be among some of the most respected though we Indians might have a problem or two with his son, the rather voluble Gohar Ayub, the off-and-on foreign minister. Could he be the person Musharraf may wish to emulate? If so, how are we to deal with him?

No two persons are alike and there are many differences between the two. Ayub, every bit the Sandhurst type, for example, would never have talked of jehad as a serious tactics. He also had his pre-Partition contacts and communication with many Indians, particularly army officers. Gen. Kumaramangalam was among these and in frequent touch with him. Musharraf is from a different generation. He has had very little contact with India. He is surrounded by officers of ISI background who occupy all the key positions around him. He is also more middle class in terms of his own social make-up which reflects in the way he has tried to involve some fairly respectable NGOs in governance.

Although he boasted last week that his defence forces had a qualitative edge over India “which, Inshallah, will be maintained” he doesn’t seem foolhardy enough to believe either that his armies would roll over the hills to Srinagar or that somehow India would fall apart under its own weight. How is a person like that, then, likely to approach his policy towards India? How is a conversation between him and Vajpayee likely to proceed? And should we talk to him at all?

A year after Kargil, if he is still around and promises to stay on for a long time, we have no choice but to open communication with him. Like him if we also look at the history of Pakistan it would become evident that dictators last a long time there. The inherent democratic impulses that fight dictatorship are simply not there. In fact, there are only two ways dictators are removed in that country: through assassination, or by losing a war against India. Since there can be no certainty about either, we cannot afford to wait for ever.

A year after Kargil, Musharraf, for us, is a better known commodity than the faceless voice at one end of the taped phone conversations. He is a regular guy who, having willy-nilly become the ruler of Pakistan, has to worry about the future, his nation’s and his own. If Ayub is his most likely role model, he must also be conscious of the one thing he lacks compared to Ayub: the unflinching western aid and support. He is by all means a nationalist, and though he may sometimes be described as a mohajir with a Punjabi complex, he must be more realistic about his own prospects if the stand-off with India were to continue for ever. That should give Vajpayee an opening when, and if, he meets Musharraf at the UN or some place else later.

A soldier in the old-fashioned sense, he would like to be a moderniser and not one who ushered in nizam-e-mustafa. But what is his idea of modernising? Who are his role models?

There are only two ways dictators are removed: through assassination, or by losing a war against India. Since there can be no certainty about either we cannot afford to wait for ever.

Also read: It’s time for China, Pakistan, even India to rethink the fantasy Modi called expansionism


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

Most Popular