General Parvez Musharraf began work on his memoirs two years ago when he decided to be spokesman for Pakistan and for himself. Too much he believed was out there that distorted the truth about Pakistan and about him. The largely self-authored straight narrative, In the Line of Fire general Musharraf documents his own version and interpretation of events.
A very easy read, the book has evoked unprecedented interest almost globally. The interest in the book simultaneously means interest in Pakistan, And as part of the promotional drive that the book’s publishers organized, general Musharraf has had added advantage to further elaborate upon his now documented Pakistan story. His appearance in most of the popular US television talk shows has helped him respond to the many questions regarding his story that interested the international audience. A man never at loss for words, Musharraf clarified questions regarding Pakistan’s role in the reining in the Taliban, in nabbing al-Qaeda, in the war on terrorism generally. On democracy Musharraf was unconvincing. His confident affirmative answer in at least two talk shows that the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis supported him has no objective basis. Musharraf has yet to test his popularity through the ballot; the only objective barometer for judging a leader’s popularity.
The book clearly covers three areas; the person of Musharraf, Pakistan’s domestic story and Pakistan in the global context. The personal account, engaging and frank, provides a window into the making of Musharraf the individual. Musharraf does not play by the rules. Even at the regimented military academy as a young cadet he opted to take more than the granted number of holidays. He wasn’t deterred by the possibility of a court-martial. Hence the boy who grew up never playing by the rules, neither in his neighborhood streets nor at the army’s premier training institution, always got away with it. And that habit has stayed with him.
A maverick he has remained to this day. Undoubtedly his prime motivation is Pakistan’s interests, whatever he understands it to be,
His conduct of policy is bold, reckless, and individualistic. And now he makes his own rules even as president. The book simply traces, through anecdotes, his growing up with no pretenses as a patriotic and confident man. But professionally nurtured in a commando mould, Musharraf would become the combative man, prone to action and to impetuousness. Also as in his early days, he still remains one who doesn’t not believe in being subtle or in the wisdom of the unstated word. And the blunt writing in his memoirs testifies this.
Musharraf has been severely criticized not only the content but the very act of writing memoirs in office. True, its not the done thing. There has also been criticism on some of what is written in the book about A. Q Khan, about Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, regarding the government having received head money for nabbed terrorists from CIA or how did he calculate his decision to side with the US after 9/11. It certainly maybe improper, even unbecoming for a Head of the State to reaffirm information that already exists indicting his country. However on balance on the external front Musharraf’s book makes for effective advocacy of Pakistan’s position on Afghanistan, on India and on the war on terror. It does tell the generally untold story of Pakistan’s contribution to nabbing al-Qaeda men who had also begun targeting Pakistan, its leadership and had now turned Pakistan into a hub for planning global terrorist activities.
However the problematic part of the book focuses on the domestic. It is candid, combative and controversial. Its Pakistan ‘s political travelogue through the Musharraf eyes. It attacks many, undermines plenty and takes a selective view of events and people. For example the 1971 war, the Bhutto personality, the Bhutto contribution, the Zia years etc all read like an indictment of Pakistan’s elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The book also does not acknowledge the achievements of the civilian Prime Minister. By all independent accounts Nawaz Sharif economic development policies were beginning to boost the economy. The nuclear test, the mishandling of the foreign exchange accounts and Kargil all contributed to the economic crisis that hit Pakistan late 1999..
It is a book that tells however documents the truth about Pakistan’s governing system. With still a weak political system almost bereft of substantive checks and balances Pakistani rulers can embark on a virtual unaccountable journey in power. Military men more than civilians since the force at they military’s disposal enables it to intervene and oust civilians. Military rulers can meanwhile continue unaccountable on solo flights for much longer. Zia’s rule was by all standards the most devastating for the Pakistan; one in which he sowed the cancerous seeds of sectarianism, extremism, political manipulation, armed militias. His was truly decade of destruction and disaster for Pakistan. May his soul rest in peace but Pakistan will suffer for decades from his decision to turn Pakistan into a hub for all mujahideen activities in the eighties.
Musharraf’s read of the domestic scene indeed misses a crucial point. The balance of power within Pakistan ‘s power construct was heavily tilted in the khaki’s favor when he many problematic steps were taken by the Pakistani State. Military dictator Zia ul Haq was then in power. He exercised his dictatorial powers to include anomalies in the Pakistani legal system like a an unIslamic version of the Hudood Ordinance, the separate electorate and the policy of supporting armed militias that promoted sectarianism. So to undo this a military ruler was needed. One who wielded sufficient unquestioned power to take on the vested interests that had emerged around these damaging moves by an earlier military dictator.
Similarly how and what Pakistan’s foreign policy decisions would be taken was also a function of the Balance of Power within the Pakistani power construct. Not unexpectedly general Musharraf’s Kargil account is being vociferously contested from within Pakistan and from India. As one of the supporters of the expanding Kargil adventure, Musharraf cannot be expected to acknowledge the major politico-diplomatic downside of Kargil, just as the official Indian version of Kargil is unlikely to concede that Indian army had made no major military breakthroughs even till early July; a fact that most of the serious Indian media reports had acknowledged at the time of Kargil. It was India’s astute diplomacy that had salvaged India from a prolonged military disaster.
Conversely for Pakistan, which as soon as early June stood totally isolated on Kargil, it had got cornered on the politico-diplomatic front. Staying on in Kargil, in defiance of the entire international community and also with no ‘moral’ standing, was no policy option for Pakistan.
The Kargil episode not only reversed a peace process with India that Nawaz Sharif had started, and one that the Musharraf government would later seek to restart, but it also flagged the irresponsibility and brashness of the Pakistani State. But for the lingering memory of Kargil, especially within the Pakistani domestic context, today Musharraf the supporter of Kargil, on India and on Kashmir, stands in complete proximity to the man from who had taken the reins of power in the 1999 military coup. In 1999 sections of the Establishment had regretted the civilian elected Prime Minister’s Nawaz Sharif ‘soft line’ on India.
Similarly the Establishment had also been critical of his ‘soft line’ on the US. In fact when the army removed the civilian Prime Minister, one of the first Nawaz Sharif decisions it overturned was regarding the presence of US troops in the Parachinar area of the NWFP. These troops had come to plan the kidnapping of Osama Bib Ladin. Also on support for the talibaan Nawaz Sharif was clearly veering away from supporting the plan. In fact his instruction to begin withdrawing support, especially given their support to sectarian forces within Pakistan was not supported by the Establishment. Hence, despite all its other flaws, the civilian leadership had opted for a strategic course correction on three key fronts India, terrorism and Afghanistan. But the Pakistani Establishment, the weightier force within Pakistan’s power construct, supported these policies. It had the ability to undermine the Prime Minister’s decision. It would take an Establishment man to re-orient these policies. And Musharraf did so, timely and ably.
Other than convincingly advocating the Pakistan case internationally Musharraf’s memoirs have also made an important contribution within the Pakistani polity. They have triggered a very lively and frank debate on all key issues effecting Pakistan today. There are no holy cows any longer. Even retired generals and ISI men have joined the fray to contest Musharraf’s account of recent Pakistani history. The contestations will get more interesting if more combative. Many new verbal fronts will be opened ! However Musharraf’s views on democracy and his account of political history will be the most vigorously debated; the handling of Baluchistan, the changing rules of the democratic system he put in place etc.
For Musharraf meanwhile what he already knows, will be reinforced further. Despite all his positive contributions Musharraf the unelected man in uniform will not be politically accepted within Pakistan. As of now he has made very little dent into the vote bank of the PPP and PML-N. His option is to either reach out or strike a deal with the mainstream political parties or remove his uniform to step into the political fray himself. A military president is a liability for a Pakistan that requires tremendous bridge-building and a healing touch within.