Too much poi­son and ha­tred has been in­fused into the minds of the peo­ple by those who do not like Pervez Mushar­raf or are afraid of him. Is he the leader who can save Pak­istan from its cur­rent im­broglio?

Southasia - - Cover story - By Syed Jawaid Iqbal

Pervez Mushar­raf is the right op­tion for the peo­ple of Pak­istan.

These were the days just af­ter Pervez Mushar­raf had re­signed from of­fice as Pres­i­dent. He was hav­ing lunch with a group of friends at the Boat Club in Karachi when an el­derly lady got up from the next ta­ble, ap­proached the for­mer Pres­i­dent and said: ‘Aap ne mulk ko kin lo­gon ke hawa­ley kar dia hai?’ (‘What sort of peo­ple have you handed over the coun­try to?’) Mushar­raf looked at her and then bowed his head in si­lence. He had no an­swer to give.

It ap­pears that the man who ruled Pak­istan for al­most nine years and did a rea­son­ably pass­able job is still caught in that si­lence. He makes per­fectly rel­e­vant ut­ter­ances from time to time but is some­how not able to make sure that what he is say­ing and what he is think­ing about the peo­ple and the coun­try is heard by the masses. The si­lence con­tin­ues.

Next Au­gust, it will be three years since Pervez Mushar­raf would have re­lin­quished the reins of power. Much wa­ter, as they say, has flowed un­der the bridge since then. In fact, it has turned into a del­uge of tow­er­ing prices, corruption at a mas­sive scale, al­most zero gov­er­nance, crime at its worst, an in­ef­fec­tive for­eign pol­icy and shameless pol­i­tick­ing that has con­tin­ued to hurl Pak­istan’s ship around in the rough seas of sur­vival. If Quaid-e-Azam had pre­dicted that ev­ery suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ment that would rule Pak­istan would be worst than its pre­de­ces­sor, then there couldn’t have been a finer ex­am­ple than this.

Now that democ­racy has lost its shine for the peo­ple of Pak­istan, thanks to the ex­tra ef­forts made by Messrs. Zar­dari and Gi­lani and all their bud­dies, there are a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple who look for­ward to Pervez Mushar­raf’s re­turn – and some­how ac­cess to the seat of power. Their view is that he would be an an­swer to all the rot that is slowly gnaw­ing into the na­tional fab­ric.

In re­al­ity, re­turn­ing to the Pak­istani po­lit­i­cal fray would be a mas­sively up­hill task for Pervez Mushar­raf, con­sid­er­ing the high money spend­ing bench­marks al­ready set by the likes of the Shar­ifs, the Chaudhrys and many an­other wadera and sar­dar. This will not hap­pen in the short term ei­ther. Fur­ther­more, there is too much rid­ing on the re­tired Gen­eral’s life. What­ever the truth, too much poi­son and ha­tred has been in­fused into the minds of the peo­ple by those who do not like him or are afraid of him. Then, there is the me­dia which is work­ing overtime to weave a web of re­vul­sion against the very man who, de­spite his mil­i­tary cre­den­tials, ac­corded un­be­liev­able lib­erty to them. There were many a ‘demo­crat’ who came be­fore and af­ter Mushar­raf but did not make the slight­est ef­fort for the cause of me­dia free­dom.

Now, it is the Mushar­raf-lib­er­ated me­dia that has strength­ened the com­mon-held be­lief that hun­dreds of youth­ful pro­tes­tors were killed in the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa on the Pres­i­dent’s in­ter­ven­tion. The me­dia has also worked re­lent­lessly to es­tab­lish that it was Mushar­raf who gave di­rect or­ders for the shoot­ing down of Ak­bar Bugti. And, over time, more peo­ple have been led by the same me­dia to be­lieve that Mushar­raf was ‘in­volved’ in Be­nazir Bhutto’s as­sas­si­na­tion.

The pity is that no in­tense ef­fort has been made by the APML, to counter these al­le­ga­tions in any con­vinc­ing and sus­tained man­ner. As far as Ak­bar Bugti’s death is con­cerned, even the ISPR has not stepped for­ward to is­sue a clar­i­fi­ca­tion of what ac­tu­ally hap­pened. Such a move would have re­moved a lot of dust from the Bugti in­ci­dent as this was an army op­er­a­tion in which a se­nior of­fi­cer was killed along with his sub­or­di­nates and that the deaths oc­curred as a re­sult of the heavy rocks around Bugti’s hide­out cav­ing in. It cer­tainly did not hap­pen be­cause Mushar­raf sitting in Rawalpindi gave or­ders to gun down the Baloch leader. In fact, the army colonel

who died and the other of­fi­cers had been sent to ne­go­ti­ate with Bugti.

Politi­cians and the me­dia also do not lose a sin­gle op­por­tu­nity to prop­a­gate the view that it was Mushar­raf who laid the foun­da­tions of the wave of terrorism that the coun­try is cur­rently en­gulfed in and it was he who in­vited the US to launch drone at­tacks into Pak­istani ter­ri­tory.

What the APML needs to do is step for­ward to force­fully counter these charges and to launch its own blitzkrieg of in­for­ma­tion about all the good that was done in Mushar­raf’s time. There was talk of a White Pa­per when Mushar­raf re­signed but no work seems to have been done on the doc­u­ment. If taken up in right earnest, it could serve as an im­por­tant and au­then­tic tool for the for­mer pres­i­dent and his cause. The APML must think about is­su­ing a White Pa­per rather se­ri­ously be­sides all the other steps that it must take to clear the fog.

Mushar­raf would have, of course, avoided his down­fall had he ex­er­cised bet­ter judg­ment in tak­ing cer­tain de­ci­sions, such as on Kal­abagh Dam, Ak­bar Bugti, the Chief Jus­tice’s re­moval, im­po­si­tion of Emer­gency, the NRO, etc., How­ever, the per­cep­tion that he did not adopt a col­le­gial ap­proach and did not take his po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary com­rades on board in as­sess­ing cru­cial sit­u­a­tions is not true. For in­stance, he waited for months and con­sulted ev­ery­one who mat­tered, be­fore or­der­ing the SSG units to break into Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa.

It may be re­called that he was first crit­i­cized for be­ing slow in tak­ing firm ac­tion against the force­ful oc­cu­pants but once he gave or­ders for the ac­tion, he was se­ri­ously cen­sured for hav­ing launched an overly rash and ‘in­hu­man’ army op­er­a­tion. The irony is that at no point did his po­lit­i­cal com­rades make an ef­fort to clear the con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the stand­off. They never both­ered to even men­tion that no less than the Imam-e-Kaaba had been ap­proached by Pervez Mushar­raf to in­ter­vene and per­suade the mil­i­tants to come out peace­fully.

On the other hand, where po­lit­i­cal is­sues were con­cerned, he went into the direc­tion pointed by the politi­cians around him while peo­ple like Shaukat Aziz, Hu­mayun Akhtar, Khur­shid Ka­suri, Dr. Hafeez Shaikh, Li­aquat Ja­toi, Sheikh Rashid, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Ijazul Haq and Je­hangir Ta­reen chose to take the back seat and wrig­gled out of sit­u­a­tions that de­manded col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity. In such cir­cum­stances, his sim­plic­ity, driven by an army mind­set, pre­vented him from mak­ing more bal­anced po­lit­i­cal judg­ments. A good ex­am­ple is the ref­er­ence against Jus­tice Iftikhar Mo­ham­mad Chaudhry that he sent across to the Supreme Ju­di­cial Coun­cil with­out giv­ing the mat­ter much thought – and even al­low­ing him­self to be pho­tographed in uni­form with the Chief Jus­tice just a day be­fore the storm was let loose.

What should be the course of ac­tion for Pervez Mushar­raf now? To start with, he should not take an­other im­pul­sive de­ci­sion and, driven by the love of the coun­try – sab se pehlay Pak­istan – and his un­ques­tioned pa­tri­o­tism, land up in Pak­istan one fine morn­ing. The threats to his per­sonal safety are too many. If his re­trac­tors could strike at him on four dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions when he was the all-pow­er­ful Pres­i­dent and COAS, what would pre­vent them from do­ing so now?

A bet­ter course of ac­tion would be for him to move away from Lon­don and set up his camp of­fice closer to home in ei­ther Abu Dhabi or Dubai. While the ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture of his po­lit­i­cal party, the APML, is in place, it now needs to be pop­u­lated by peo­ple who must be seen work­ing more proac­tively and talk­ing to the peo­ple on their leader’s be­half in a much more force­ful man­ner. To quote an ex­am­ple, while Mr. Altaf Hus­sain makes fre­quent state­ments on na­tional mat­ters, there is a lot that peo­ple in the MQM Rabita Com­mit­tee also say and do to ex­ploit the op­por­tu­nity and fur­ther prop­a­gate their leader’s ut­ter­ances.

It is also time for all those well-known names who are known to have a lean­ing to­wards Pervez Mushar­raf but who have been so of­ten de­scribed by him as ‘fence-sit­ters,’ to come off their com­fort­able perches and stand up to be counted as Mushar­raf’s sup­port­ers. If they are still wait­ing to find out which way the wind will blow, then they may soon find them­selves blown off their feet.

As for the way for­ward, for once, it is ju­di­cious on the part of Pervez Mushar­raf to re­al­ize that he can­not tra­verse the po­lit­i­cal path alone. The peo­ple of Pak­istan have been fed enough hol­low prom­ises un­der the cur­rent dis­pen­sa­tion. Now they want re­sults and for any po­lit­i­cal party to be able to de­liver, it has to be an open and ac­com­moda­tive ap­proach based on a con­crete pro­gram and a col­lab­o­ra­tive strat­egy with other like-minded po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

The APML’s in­ter­est and sin­cer­ity with Pak­istan’s cur­rent so­cial and eco­nomic prob­lems as well as fu­ture plans would be more ef­fi­ciently re­flected if it were to form a proper Cen­tral Com­mit­tee or Shadow Cabi­net backed by a fully equipped re­search cell that should keep its fin­ger on the peo­ple’s pulse, ac­quire in­for­ma­tion on a real-time ba­sis and ad­vise their leader on na­tional pol­icy for­mu­la­tion and other is­sues. They should keep him fully up­dated so that he can speak out more con­vinc­ingly and with more facts on var­i­ous is­sues con­cern­ing the coun­try.

If Pervez Mushar­raf per­ceives him­self to be play­ing a role in

Pak­istan’s af­fairs in the near fu­ture, he needs to change his ap­proach and take pol­i­tics much more se­ri­ously. He may talk to TV an­chors about things that bring him out as a well-rounded per­son who lives life with all its verve and vi­tal­ity but it does noth­ing to con­vince the starv­ing masses that he shares their pain and suf­fer­ings – and is ea­ger and will­ing to ad­dress their prob­lems wher­ever in the world he may be.

If Be­nazir Bhutto could take a leaf from Altaf Hus­sain’s book and ad­dress party work­ers on tele­phone dur­ing her self-ex­ile days, why can’t Pervez Mushar­raf do the same? His suc­cess will largely de­pend on his charisma, his po­lit­i­cal acu­men and his party’s abil­ity to counter the neg­a­tive pro­pa­ganda that has been un­leashed by his op­po­nents. To do this, he needs to de­velop a strong ca­pa­bil­ity to ad­dress the peo­ple’s psy­cho­graph­ics, play­ing on all the pos­i­tives of his ten­ure and the tremen­dous gap that has now come about as those who fol­lowed him into of­fice have com­pre­hen­sively failed to de­liver on all counts.

There is no doubt that Pervez Mushar­raf has many pos­i­tives that could make a dif­fer­ence to Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture. He is re­spected in top cir­cles world­wide, has a mid­dle class back­ground and is still ac­cept­able to the army. He has in­depth un­der­stand­ing of the cur­rent geopo­lit­i­cal sce­nario and the play­ers that mat­ter, in­clud­ing the more bal­anced Tal­iban and the Kash­miris and he knows what role In­dia, Afghanistan and the U.S. are play­ing in the re­gional con­text. Be­ing a mod­er­ate, he en­joys the con­fi­dence of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity led by the U.S. and EU.

It may be re­called that dur­ing his term in of­fice, Mushar­raf ad­vised the U.S. to ‘en­gage’ the Tal­iban. They did not pay at­ten­tion then but now they are adopt­ing the same strat­egy di­rectly in Afghanistan and in­di­rectly through Tur­key. Had the U.S. paid heed to Pervez Mushar­raf’s ad­vice, Mike Mullen would not have said in his most re­cent visit to Islamabad that he wor­ries about the syn­di­ca­tion that has de­vel­oped in the re­gion in­volv­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Haqqani net­work, Al Qaeda, etc., over the course of the last three years.

The record of Pak­istan’s eco­nomic per­for­mance in Mushar­raf’s ten­ure is also note­wor­thy. A re­cent sub­stan­ti­a­tion of this has come in the Pro­gramme Note on Pak­istan that the IMF has is­sued on April 7, 2011. The open­ing state­ment of the Note says: “…un­til the eco­nomic cri­sis of 2008, Pak­istan en­joyed a rel­a­tively ro­bust eco­nomic per­for­mance since 2001.”

Now Mushar­raf also knows how the gov­ern­ment func­tions in this coun­try and would not look like a novice should he gain ac­cess to the cor­ri­dors of power again. He is an up­front and can­did sort of per­son which is a great thing but what, in one’s con­sid­ered opin­ion, he needs to add to his per­son­al­ity pro­file is the art of “po­lit­i­cal diplo­macy – some­thing that is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary for suc­cess in the South Asian po­lit­i­cal sce­nario.

At present, Mushar­raf’s party, the APML is like a sta­tionery train at a plat­form with empty bo­gies and all the pas­sen­gers loi­ter­ing about be­cause the en­gine is miss­ing. Let’s hope that once the en­gine is at­tached (Pervez Mushar­raf’s changed po­lit­i­cal ap­proach) and the whis­tle blows, they (the fence-sit­ters) would all jump in and the APML would gather steam to­wards its po­lit­i­cal jour­ney.

When Pervez Mushar­raf launched the APML, he said he wanted to give an­other op­tion to the peo­ple of Pak­istan. Now that the peo­ple have had a taste of two op­tions – the Peo­ple’s Party and the Mus­lim League (in all its var­ie­gated man­i­fes­ta­tions), can he be­come the third op­tion? The writer is the Edi­tor-in-Chief of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine. He is also the Found­ing Chair­man of Mod­er­ates - a pri­vate sec­tor think tank com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing tol­er­ance, in­ter­faith, har­mony and democ­racy.

Un­easy al­liances.

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