20.2.08

Musharraf: The Great Dictator?

Musharraf, Peace and the Autumn of the Patriarch

The Great Dictator?
By Farzana Versey

February 20, 2008, Counterpunch

The jubilation in the streets of Pakistan is understandable. That is what streets are for. But when downright corrupt politicians begin talking about democracy and the downfall of a dictator, then they do take hallucination to great heights.

Pakistan cannot be a democracy, for there is nothing like an Islamic democracy, however egalitarian the believers are convinced their religion is. A religious construct cannot subsume a social ideology.

It is imperative to see how President Pervez Musharraf has worked within the confines of such a stringent ethos to make Pakistan a modern theocracy. There will be many a naysayer, but we need to think of the barriers he had to face. Merely running down army rule in a country that has lived with it several times is a narrow vision.

Today, the people of Pakistan are rejoicing over the defeat of some fanatic elements. They ought to realise that it was Musharraf who had stuck his neck out against them. While Jemima Khan is busy trying out her role as Robert Fisk behind a lattice screen, she conveniently forgets that her ex-husband had the strong backing of the Islamists, being a born-again Islamist himself. His was a politically-driven reinvention. Musharraf did not fall prey to that. Like all politicians, he only suffered from delusions of grandeur and the occasional bout of amnesia.

I have often been asked why Indians like Musharraf. It certainly is not his public relations skills or the much-touted breakfast in 2002 at Agra. A man who refers to the former chief justice, an issue that did and still can cause trouble for him, as a “scumbag” is not a particularly good candidate for diplomacy.

Here is one man who lacks charisma, but look closely and there is the familiar austerity camouflaging a smooth shrewdness. While pushing his opponents to defensive positions, he is being defensive as well.

He is the statesman without a state. An immigrant from Delhi who moved to Turkey where he found some inspiration from Kemal Ataturk, he probably represents the rootlessness of several people who do not have tribal loyalties. To his credit, he has never banked on his mohajir identity.

Musharraf’s biggest problem was how to cope with the religious zealots, not because America told him so but because he had to acclimatise himself to mores that did not appear intrinsic to his personality. In some ways he was like a new convert – he tried too hard. And that effort occasionally came across as sincerity which, as Oscar Wilde said, is the greatest vice of the fanatic.

Being an armyman his attachment to the land hinged on a permanent war-like situation. It was akin to living out of a mental suitcase. There are very many reasons provided for his reluctance to give up his uniform. One of them was his undoubted insecurity.

Therefore, there has been a tendency to think out of the box a bit too much. His “bombshell” a few years ago that New Delhi should withdraw its armed forces from three Kashmir cities – Srinagar, Kupwara, and Baramullah – and the two countries should jointly ensure that there was no terrorism in the Valley had met with cynicism. India has always maintained that Pakistan is responsible for terrorist infiltration.

Given this, we would still have to take into account that even the local Kashmiri militant organisations in India insist on tripartite talks. Pakistan can ensure peace because it has been dealing with what it calls Azad Kashmir and we call Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Incidentally, Musharraf had gone on record to say that he had banned many such organisations and those that have come up under different guises were on the ‘watch list’. He also stated that although he could not give a certificate, he would ensure that if any such incident occurred he would himself bring the organisation or person to book.

He made these comments on a public forum before the cameras. If anything, he would be in trouble.

In India we do tend to gloat over the regular military coups that take place and how Pakistan is nothing but a puppet regime, its strings pulled by western powers. Do we truly believe that the West is sparing us because we do not have problems? No. The simple reason is that we are a bigger marketplace and the ‘civil war’ within our boundaries is too diverse and unlikely to make any radical difference to the West.

Interestingly, it is the West that has buffered dictators and strife within nations, the latter giving rise to terrorism that it is now purportedly fighting against. Worst of all, it encourages disputes.

Pakistan is being looked at for the second possibility, but with some element of caution. Which is why in a ridiculous manner, the dictator was sometimes ticked off for abetting terrorism. A dictator ought to squash dissent. So, how did President Musharraf qualify as a dictator? Only because some magazine in the US stated, “Two years after seizing power in a military coup that overthrew an elected government, Musharraf appointed himself president. He recently agreed to step down as head of the military, then reversed his decision”?

The idea behind the double whammy was devious. If Musharraf was somebody who forcibly came to power to restore order in his country, then as head of a ‘terrorist state’ he would be out of bounds with a license to kill. It would work well in the Texan brawl fantasy.

Musharraf is the underdog. What the US might have liked is for him to toe its idea of the Arab line. In this context, Pakistan is snug in its Islamic identity and anytime it decides to get atop a camel, it will be coitus interruptus for the Occidental orgasm.

Was Musharraf merely a hard-nosed dictator? Joseph Nye has demarcated between a “soft power”, which has the ability of the state to get “other countries to want what it wants”, and a “hard power” that is based on economic and military strength. If we look at it in this context, then his peace proposal with India did not require any constitutional amendment. This was thinking on the feet, rather than being trapped beneath the debris of bureaucracy.

He was asked whether the internal turmoil would come in the way of the peace process. He had an apt response, “18 insurgency movements going on in India – does it stop the peace process? …I am not bogged down.”

The confusion has been entirely India’s. Pakistan, on the other hand, is pretty accustomed to the routine. It has to cope with what Huntington called the revival of non-western cultures, a military regime that is always strong and a democracy that has not done much for peace.

It is time for Pakistanis to accept that their elected governments have not produced the best leaders. Merely going to the polls is not fortification enough. The real enemies have always lived in hiding in foreign lands. Ironically, it takes a dictator to say, even as his power could turn to puff, “This is not an ideal society.”

By projecting himself as the kingmaker, Musharraf has now got the whispering gallery agog. A fitting denouement for a man whose boots are made for talking.

7 comments:

  1. Military despots and corrupt politicians have become permanent fixtures of Pakistan’s unfortunate political landscape and will remain so for the foreseeable future as long as there is a patriarch (likes of Mushy) who prefers a cowboy with a Stetson (that is a size too big), and suffers from an acute ejaculatio praecox – I am afraid coitus interruptus is an eventus nullus of anti climactic proportion. The recent election and its predictable outcome have proved yet again that this is nothing more then deja vu of the ground hog day all over again, yet again.

    “... he governed as if he felt predestined to never die ...” wrote Marquez of his protagonist Generalissimo, but dodging a bullet or two does not guarantee an eternal life or for that matter another day.

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  2. FV:

    Couldn't agree more. It is the first sane view of happenings inside Pakistan that one is reading.

    Is this about Musharraf's legacy? Or are we judging him too soon. When these democrats (Sharif, a protege of Zia) and Mr.10% Zardari have failed the nation again, a few years down the line, who will save Pakistan? Can the nation grow beyond individuals on to some systems and processes?

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  3. FV,

    It is time for Pakistanis to accept that their elected governments have not produced the best leaders. Merely going to the polls is not fortification enough.

    By saying this you're denying Pakistanis the right to learn with time.

    A fitting denouement for a man whose boots are made for talking.

    Sure, but these boots may soon turn to walking, or even running :)

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  4. Ana:

    Thanks...

    Anon:

    Deja vu has the comforting thought of a familiar devil...societies are demonised by the powerful, with or without the Stetson. Size, in this case, does not matter.

    “... he governed as if he felt predestined to never die ...”

    That is what the delusion of immortality is about and what posterity remembers.

    PS:

    Trust an Indian to provide the "first sane view" of Pakistan :)

    Okay, before the bullets are out...no nation can grow beyond individuals. Only tribal societies possibly...

    WMW:

    I don't think it is the common Pakistani who has to learn with time, but merely to drop the naivete. The ones who need to learn don't read blogs!

    ["A fitting denouement for a man whose boots are made for talking."

    Sure, but these boots may soon turn to walking, or even running :)]

    Same thing...if the shoes have sharp soles then they talk on the tarmac! Or squeak...

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  5. "Pakistan cannot be a democracy, for there is nothing like an Islamic democracy, however egalitarian the believers are convinced their religion is. A religious construct cannot subsume a social ideology."

    That is your personal opinion, nothing more. What role religion can, or should, play in governance and society can be debated for eons, without fruit. In the end, I don't think there really is any one 'correct' answer. That would be like enforcing one religion on the whole of humanity. Different strokes for different folks.

    That said, let me now blaspheme. Why 'pure' democracy? If there are better options....after all, the world is not divided into holy democracies and evil theocracies.

    I agree with the spirit of what you've written- Musharraf is indeed not as much of a dog as he's being called- but the letter...for once, flawed.

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  6. FV,

    "The ones who need to learn don't read blogs!"

    Hmm ... in that case I suppose Jemima would be reading a lot of blogs! Or could it be she knows of the inner dynamics of the Pakistani people by 'doing' Musharraf? To get the other view after doing Imran -;

    Just kidding. It's obvious Pakistani people don't need to read any blogs or even go to school to learn which way to vote.

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  7. Mask:

    ["Pakistan cannot be a democracy, for there is nothing like an Islamic democracy, however egalitarian the believers are convinced their religion is. A religious construct cannot subsume a social ideology."

    That is your personal opinion, nothing more. What role religion can, or should, play in governance and society can be debated for eons, without fruit. In the end, I don't think there really is any one 'correct' answer. That would be like enforcing one religion on the whole of humanity. Different strokes for different folks.]


    Indeed, it is my personal opinion. But do look at the message before shooting the messenger...

    There is no doubt about debating what role religion can play in any society or government, agreed, but you cannot prefix 'democracy' with a religious identity...whether it is Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, it does not qualify. This isn't just an opinion; it is factually flawed.

    Why 'pure' democracy? If there are better options....after all, the world is not divided into holy democracies and evil theocracies.

    I do not think there is anything pure about democracy in most societies or evil in theocracies. However, we cannot water down basic systems of thought. People do pray in democracies and there are democratic norms in theocracies. Just don't label them. (And I do recall you don't like labels!)

    I agree with the spirit of what you've written- Musharraf is indeed not as much of a dog as he's being called- but the letter...for once, flawed.

    Hmm...want to take a raincheck?
    -
    WMW:

    I have decided not to vote...

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