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?
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.