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|June 21, 2001||
Here comes President Musharraf
Many years ago, in the second fortnight of December 1971, I was an 'ear witness' to a coup in Pakistan in my cell in Rawalpindi jail (I was a prisoner of war) and guarded by a platoon of soldiers (nearly 30 men).
On that balmy afternoon, I heard a lot of slogan-shouting, 'Quaid-e-Awam Bhutto zindabad (long live great leader Bhutto)', when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto went to the presidential palace in a procession to meet the president, General Yahya Khan.
In less than an hour, the procession returned, but this time the slogans were different: 'Hamara naya sadar Bhutto zindabad (long live our new president Bhutto)'. I turned to my guard and told him that his country had had a coup and had a new president. The guard was shocked. He menacingly pointed his rifle at me and demanded to know how I knew of this.
Luckily, a sergeant arrived on the scene and controlled him and, in a way, made this column possible. Later, the Pakistani newspapers were full of how Lieutenant General Tikka Khan -- who had accompanied Bhutto -- had pointed his pistol at Yahya Khan and asked him to sign on the dotted line. Any Hindi movie producer would have been proud of the kind of scene!
The abruptness and dramatic nature of Musharraf assuming the presidency this time shows that 30 years down the line, nothing much has changed in Pakistan. Neither the Cabinet nor the civil servants knew about this before it happened.
What must have sent shivers down many spines in the West is the fact that this country has nuclear weapons! The harsh Anglo-American reaction could well be due to this as well as due to the fact that they were obviously not consulted beforehand!
For long it has been the American goal to put the control of nuclear weapons in civilian hands in Pakistan. With this coup, that seems a far-fetched possibility.
One does not know Musharraf's rationale for this action, but now in effect he has removed all buffers between himself and the people. Any failure to deliver on the economic and political front will directly affect his fate.
By its very nature, economic reforms have a long gestation period and results will be visible only after a year or so. Politically, while many Pakistanis desire peace, a majority view is that peace should not be at the cost of the 'cause of Kashmir'.
The Pakistani public, including well-meaning people, are today convinced that India is committing untold atrocities on the Kashmiri people and that Indian Muslims are living like 'slaves' in Hindu-dominated India.
Both of these are canards. It is seen all over the world that whenever there are atrocities, the first thing that happens is long lines of refugees are seen on the roads! This has been true of Bangladesh in 1971, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan!
But while there are millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, no Pakistani pauses to think why there is no similar exodus from Kashmir. Instead the only refugees from Kashmir have been the hapless Pandits -- 200,000 of them are living in camps for the last 10 years. No Pakistani, leave alone Musharraf, has acknowledged this fact.
Indian Muslims are definitely at a disadvantage in the job market and have many complaints of discrimination, but there have been many success stories, like the Anglo-Urdu Girls school of Pune bagging top honours in school exams!
After all, India's top businessman is none other than Azim Premji and top scientist, A P J Abdul Kalam. But these facts are not ever made known to the average Pakistani, leave alone acknowledged by the leadership. Most Pakistanis are convinced that India has no case on Kashmir based on secularism and the pluralism of its polity.
In this backdrop, anything short of Musharraf getting the Kashmir valley for Pakistan will be dubbed a 'sellout' to India. Realistically, Musharraf also knows this and would be using this familiar tactic to get concessions from India as Bhutto did from Indira Gandhi at Simla in 1972.
From his pronouncements, it appears that Musharraf is serious about wanting to become the Kemal Ataturk of Pakistan and usher in modernisation and secularism. Kemal Pasha could succeed as Turkey was then reeling from its defeat in the First World War and people were ready for a change. Also the European part of Turkey was much more amenable to his ideas. In Pakistan today there is no such feeling of crisis and there is no stable support base for 'social' and 'religious' reform.
The Kargil conflict two years ago is widely regarded as a victory that Pakistan was cheated of due to American pressure. Nawaz Sharief had to go because he became the fall guy for the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the Kargil heights. Consistently, the Pakistani media has been reporting 'victories' for the mujahideen in Kashmir. In this atmosphere, anything less than an Indian withdrawal from the valley will be regarded as another sellout and this time Musharraf will pay the price.
By his assumption of the presidency, Musharraf has raised the stakes for himself as well as his 'reform' and modernisation process. But much as many of us would want him to succeed, the chances are bleak. Modernisation and secularisation of the Pakistani polity would mean a direct attack on the 'Muslims are a nation' theory. Can he afford to jettison the two-nation theory and yet keep Pakistan and his head?
Much will depend on the strength of the fundamentalist lobby in the army, the courage of civil society and the middle classes, and help from India. The signs are that he may well be one more in the long line of Pakistani leaders who could not dismount the 'fundamentalist tiger' without being devoured.
With Musharraf becoming president, it seems that the final struggle between the 'moderates' and the extremists has begun in Pakistan. Its outcome and Musharraf's fate are still a question mark. We may not have to wait too long for the answer as the reaction in Pakistan to the summit will be a pointer to Musharraf's future and that of Pakistan as well.
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