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Pakistan's new freedom at US midnight

November 29, 2007 13:37 IST

As most of the world watched with bated breath, the impossible happened. A highly emotional General Musharraf handed over command of the Pakistan Army to General Ashfaq Kiyani.

It was a historical moment for the subcontinent and the world. As America slept (paraphrasing India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru's historic speech on the occasion of India getting its independence from the British, and given the time difference), Pakistan awoke to a new freedom.

Symbolically perhaps, the baton got stuck in its groove as Musharraf, with shaking hands, struggled to pull it out. Kiyani bent forward to help, but by then, even the Gods, probably moved by the poignancy of the moment, came to the rescue of the two awkward generals. The baton moved and it was handed over by General Musharraf to General Kiyani.

Clenching his teeth, General Musharraf used the term 'afsos' (regret) four times in his 15-minute emotional speech. Here was a man who admitted, even while handing over charge, that the uniform was his second skin, and he was shedding it albeit reluctantly.

Knowing that the reptilian metaphor makes him seem almost creepy, the darling despot did not hesitate to say that he was feeling very "jazbati" (emotional) while leaving the "khaandan" (family... read army).

Like a Shakespearean tragic hero, the General said, "Maine fauj say mohabbat ki hai -- bepanah mohabbat." Oh yes, a love affair. But like all affairs, this too had to end. Talking about his departure, the general, with his chest and eyes swelling, said: "Har achchi cheez ko jaani hoti hai" (All good things must come to an end).

He called the army his life, his passion. So now, it's a life without 'jaan' or 'mohabbat' for the civilian President. But, he said in the same breath that his relationship with the army cannot end. "Maine vardi utaari hai, lekin dil aur dimaag se aapke saath rahoonga....apki khushion me, tarakki mey aapke saath rahoonga" ( I have only taken off my uniform, but my mind and my heart are with you. I will be part of your growth and happiness). So, has he really left the army is what everybody is wondering.

Will he install himself as field marshall or chief martial law administrator or something to that effect in the future?

The task before the army, he said, was 'qaum ko bachana hai... Har rukavat ko maar ke hataana hai...Yeh kaam sirf fauj kar sakti hai ( The nation has to be saved, every obstacle has to be taken out, this can only be done by the army). And, we all know who the saviour is right? Not Kiyani for heaven's sake. He is merely the army chief from now on.

The saviour can only be Musharraf. The obstacles, you ask....that could be anything that Musharraf deems as obstacles at any point of time. They could range from Al Qaeda to Taliban to Lal Masjid, to Nawaz Sharif to Mukhtaran Mai to Asma Jehangir, and to sundry judges.

Musharraf called the Army "the saviour of Pakistan" and said: "Bina iske, Pakistan ka vajood nahi" (without the army, Pakistan has no identity).

That was said as much for the domestic audience as for Uncle Sam. You want to deal with Pakistan, talk to the army. New permutations and combinations are in the making in Pakistan this week, even as 'Made in China' ballot boxes arrive.

Oh yes, China sends more than just missiles to its good friend. Ballot boxes from China, that epitome of democracy!

Smita Prakash