October 17, 2002


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The Rediff Special/Lieutenant General (retired) Eric A Vas

Pervez Musharraf studied at St Patrick's High School in Karachi. India's Home Minister L K Advani and I matriculated from the same school, which imparts a sound basic education and projects balanced humane values.

Musharraf spent his adolescent years in Turkey, where his father served as a diplomat, and was fascinated by how Kemal Ataturk had been able to modernize and secularise the Turkish administration and political structure without uprooting its Islamic character.

After he joined the army, Pervez passed successive professional examinations with high grades. He displayed outstanding courage and leadership qualities in several battles against India as a young officer and later as a colonel and a brigadier. This earned him the respect and loyalty of those who served under him.

Musharraf observed the senior officers and politicians and was convinced that General Zia-ul-Haq's attempts to Islamise the armed forces and civil society in order to strengthen his hold on the country was a wrong and short-sighted policy that would rebound on the nation. It was probably at this time that he made up his mind that should he ever reach the topmost seat of power, he would become the Kemal Ataturk of Pakistan and undo what President Zia-ul-Haq had done.

Musharraf shared his dream with a few of his close Pakistani and American friends. [A factor overlooked by most Indians is that many Pakistani and American military and civilian officers, through 50 years of professional interaction, have built up close and genuine relationships with each other.] Musharraf knew that like Ataturk, he would have to make the army his base. After being appointed chief of the Pakistani Army, he felt the best way to enhance his popularity with the armed forces was to win a major battle against India. He evolved the plan to intrude into Kargil, which caught India napping.

But the Indian armed forces stood fast and demanded that the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, be honoured. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief, under severe pressure from the United States, ordered Musharraf to withdraw. Yet, many Pakistanis still believe Musharraf's claim that Kargil was a great victory and operations were called off because the weak politicians could not stand up to international pressure.

The Pakistani prime minister, who probably never knew what was actually happening on the border, was now conscious of his army chief's ambitions. When General Musharraf was returning from Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sharief ordered the captain of the aircraft to fly to Dubai and offload the general. Musharraf took control of the plane, contacted Karachi airport, and said that he was landing anyway. Before this could happen, the vice-chief of the army in Islamabad arrested the prime minister and declared a military coup.

Musharraf is a mohajir (refugee) from India with no ethnic roots in any of the four Pakistani provinces. That a coup could take place in his name, while he was airborne, by a predominantly Punjabi army, indicates his popularity.

Musharraf took over the country and eventually appointed himself president. Earlier, Prime Minister Sharief was tried on charges of attempted murder and hijacking and held guilty. I was in Washington in April 2000, visiting the US state department on the day the sentence was to be passed on Nawaz Sharief. American officials whom I met were confident that Sharief would not be harmed. They kept telling me that Musharraf was Pakistan's best bet. If he left the scene, he would be replaced "by a bearded general and that would be disastrous for Pakistan and South Asia".

As predicted by the Americans, the general did not follow the bloody example of his predecessor Zia-ul-Haq (who had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto executed). Instead, he banished the Sharief family to Saudi Arabia for 10 years.

In his first television address to the nation, the general proclaimed that he wants to be the Kemal Ataturk of Pakistan and make it a modern Islamic state.

Musharraf had recruited, armed, trained, and organised the Taliban forces and later the Taliban government in Afghanistan. A year before 9/11, the Taliban ruled 95 per cent of Afghanistan; only a small north-eastern pocket continued to be controlled by the Northern Alliance.

When the Soviet Union broke up, the American oil firm Unocal began planning a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan into India. Unocal's agent in Afghanistan then was a man named Hamid Karzai. America's security aim is to ensure that there are two strong pro-American states, Turkey and Pakistan, on either flank of the turbulent Islamic Middle East. Its economic aim is to establish a dominating presence over Central Asia's rich oil and gas resources.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Musharraf the flexible tactician knew that American support was vital to his main aim of building a modern state; all other considerations were peripheral. He warned Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden to escape, and they infiltrated into Pakistan. He also ordered the Pakistani troops serving in Afghanistan to withdraw. Taliban guerrillas dispersed into the countryside.

After defeating the Taliban, the Americans appointed Hamid Karzai president of Afghanistan and, along with rehabilitation work, began construction of the Unocal pipeline. India has no quarrel with the US strategic and commercial plans in the region; but it has refused to accept Pakistan's double standards of claiming to fight international terrorism while supporting the infiltration of terrorists into Jammu & Kashmir.

United States President George Bush, while refusing to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, advised Musharraf to close down all the jihadi camps and to not refer to jihadis as freedom fighters. Musharraf agreed. The question of fighting a proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir was a peripheral consideration to his principal aim of building a modern state with American assistance.

Musharraf accepts that Pakistan cannot prosper without freedom and democracy. He believes that each country must evolve its own form of democracy to suit the psyche of their respective people. He is convinced that Pakistan needs a Turkish-type political system.

Undoubtedly Musharraf will face many obstacles while leading his country on its path to modernisation. (This aspect demands a separate and subsequent article.) At present, he faces grave threats to his life from his many opponents. But he is a brave man and we should have no doubt that he means business. While maintaining the strength of the armed forces, Pervez is confident that in due course Pakistan will emerge as a strong modern state. This, and not cross-border terrorism, is the ultimate challenge before the general.

For India, this challenge cannot be met by deploying our armed forces on the border. Indian democracy is well suited to its pluralist society and its ancient traditions. But it would be rash for our corrupt politicians to underestimate the general's popular appeal and the challenge he poses.

Image: Uday Kuckian

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