The good general   (10 Jul 2000)

Those who are trying to undermine General Pervez Musharraf obviously dont understand his personality, style of functioning and strategy. So far, he has not created any hype for his regime in the international arena and has deliberately maintained a low profile. He knew he would have to first generate wider acceptability for himself on the domestic front, then go for a global image.

As far as his own country is concerned, he has established himself well. People by and large have accepted him as the ruler, though, of course, this may be primarily a reaction to Nawaz Shariefs misrule. Secondly, the people of Pakistan are so used to military regimes that the kind of political system in the country hardly makes any difference to them. They feel as good under army rule as they do in a democracy.

During my recent visit to Pakistan, I noticed that everything is normal and that the government machinery is taking instructions from serving and retired army officers who have been given different responsibilities by the military ruler. The political parties seem to be in very bad shape as the Muslim League is virtually on the verge of a split. Kulsoom Nawaz, wife of the deposed prime minister, has not been able to keep the flock together as she has never been in politics and was a housewife till her husband was jailed.

The Peoples Party is in equally bad shape as Benazir Bhutto is hardly ever in Pakistan. Most of the time she is in London and only visits Dubai to find out what is happening in her country. She is apprehensive of being arrested by the Musharraf regime. Her husband has also been languishing in jail for more than three years now.

Musharraf seems to be quite a straightforward person who speaks what he feels. But going by the way he speaks, one cannot help feeling that he cannot continue for very long as the head of Pakistan. Once you are in office you have to be very guarded in your language and cautious in your policy statements. He himself realises this and after a media conference in Islamabad, he returned to take the mike and apologise to those whom he had inadvertently hurt with his words.

Earlier he had virtually snubbed a journalist from Bangladesh who tried to remind Musharraf of the atrocities committed by Pakistani forces in East Pakistan in 1971. The journalist asked this question when Musharraf was talking about the so-called excesses of Indian forces in the Kashmir Valley.

At the end of the media conference, Indian media personnel, by and large, were impressed by Musharrafs straightforwardness. In fact, he did not parry any question. He also spoke on a one-to-one basis with a number of Indian journalists and tried to cultivate them in his own way, a habit typical of the late General Zia-ul-Haq. Though I would go so far as to say that those who are trying to compare General Musharraf with General Zia are doing an injustice to the former.

What I strongly believe is that given the opportunity, Musharraf will surpass General Zia as a military ruler. He will see to it that Nawaz Sharief does not acquire martyrdom, so much so that even if a court sentences Sharif to death, Musharraf will pardon him.

He has already acquired legal sanctity for his regime by wrangling a three-year time frame to restore democracy from the Supreme Court. This he has obtained knowing full well that three years is a long time and that perhaps he can influence “democracy” in these three years to take such shape as he wants it to. There may be an elected government under a military ruler, for instance. He has also deliberately coined a new designation for himself — chief executive — as he does not want to be called a martial law administrator.

He is now enjoying all the powers that General Zia used to enjoy in his time, without even being called a martial law ruler. He has placed the president, who is supposed to be the head of the country, above himself. Though of course, in effect, the president has virtually no role to play and all powers are vested with the chief executive.

Musharraf is doing all this to avoid a confrontation with the various institutions. He realises the discontent in Baluchistan and the feelings of separation in this tribal-dominated province. He is trying to woo them by giving them an express highway and some industrial establishments.

As far as India is concerned, on one hand, he is talking about resumption of dialogues on various issues, including Kashmir (not Kashmir alone as was his earlier stand), while on the other he is comparing the Kashmir situation with Afghanistan, justifying the term jehad as used by him. This is a significant development and India needs to be very careful after this statement.

The last and most important factor for Musharraf is his identity. He is a Mohajir by virtue of being from Delhi. His wife is from Lucknow. He also knows the feelings of Punjabis and Sindhis towards a Mohajir ruler. The general perception in the media is that Punjabi generals will not let him continue for long. This could be one reason why he is taking decisions after consulting a core group of the militarys top brass. At the same time, he has not given any preferential treatment or concessions to the Mohajirs.