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Musharraf and the deepening divide
October 11, 2006
That approach to life is on display in many parts of his autobiography, In the Line of Fire.
I also happened to experience it first hand a couple of years ago, while Musharraf was addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
On that occasion, in a typically self-laudatory speech, Musharraf advanced the notion of "enlightened moderation" and spoke of empowering women. He then lashed out at a host of imagined demons ranging from India's Kashmir policy to the conduct of prior presidents who he stated dismissed prime ministers on a whim.
At question time, I asked him how he could reconcile his statements with the then recent dismissal of Prime Minister Jamali and his education minister Zobaida Jalal, a woman from Balochistan.
After responding that Jamali "left on his own", a claim that was met with peals of laughter from the audience, he assumed his characteristic combative stance and asked me "why does it bother you what happens to Zobaida?" He went on to assert that she is happy because "she and her family have come to his home for dinner".
Panning Musharraf's tome is like going after low hanging fruit. And there are plenty of pickings, from his absurd claim that Kargil was a victory for the Pakistani army to the ludicrous statement that India may have copied Pakistan's centrifuge design. That Pakistan never designed its own is one of many inconvenient truths that do not find mention in the pages of his memoir.
A glaring omission in his book is the world's largest Muslim-upon-Muslim genocide perpetrated by his revered Pakistani army. Even Pakistan's Hamidur Rahman Commission report, which was hidden to the public for over two decades, notes that over 300,000 were killed by Pakistani troops. Others such as University of Hawaii Professor R J Rummel, an authority on government sponsored genocide, estimate the killings to have reached the 3 million mark, far surpassing latter day massacres such as Rwanda.
Instead, virtually all the pages in the Musharraf memoir on Bangladesh are devoted to ruing the loss of the erstwhile eastern wing, the ignominy of his army's surrender to India and the loss of a close personal friend in that war whose name Bilal he bestowed on his son.
Any casual observer of Pakistan knows that it is a prime example of an army in control of a country. Musharraf does nothing to dispel that notion and, in fact, proudly points to the army as an example of probity and efficiency. There is also the usual machismo that leads to claims like the 'Pakistan Military Academy is the best in the world'.
Examples abound of the pervasive control exercised by the army even under civilian rule as in the Nawaz Sharif administration. On the day Musharraf toppled Sharif's government, the director of Karachi airport, where Musharraf's plane was to land, was Brigadier Tariq Fateh while the commander of airport security was another brigadier, a Naveed Nasar.
General MacArthur's famous quote that 'old soldiers do not die, they merely fade away' has a peculiar twist in Pakistan. Former soldiers merely doff their uniform and don civilian attire and continue to wreak havoc on the State.
A constant theme of the book is General Musharraf's penchant for machismo laced with fiction. His description of the 1965 conflict offers plenty of examples of that.
He claims the Indian Air Force was routed in that war and battlefields were littered with Indian tanks. While any objective reading of that war would show it was a stalemate, there were theatres where it was the Pakistani army that was routed. None so dramatically as in the battle of Asal Uttar outside Amritsar when an Indian Muslim, Havildar Abdul Hamid, knocked out three Patton tanks with only a recoil-less gun and saved Amritsar from falling to enemy hands.
He also recounts, euphorically, how he called his mother from Indian soil that was captured by the Pakistani army. Left out is the story of how Indian forces were within hours of capturing Lahore with American and British citizens being urged to evacuate that city.
I remember, as an eight year old, entering Dograi after Indian troops had reached the Ichogil canal outside Lahore and looking at grim Pakistani soldiers across the water while euphoric Indian soldiers were showing off the captured 'pill-boxes' and destroyed tanks besides the empty houses of Pakistani officers.
Nevertheless, the book does offer some insights about Musharraf and the Pakistani nation. The former's thinly veiled pride in his Arab roots mentioned in the book underscores the deepening divide between the peoples of India and Pakistan -- they may look similar but 60 years after Partition, the gulf has become an unbridgeable chasm.
The Pakistani state comes across for what it is: a problem not just for India but the rest of the world that can only be managed and probably never resolved.