Last week the Musharraf regime lost one of the prime reasons for its being considered by public perception to be the most decent government in recent memory in Pakistan. While the graveyard is full of indispensible people, for this government “GA”, as the late Lt Gen Ghulam Ahmed was known, may yet prove to be so. A man of mild and pleasant demeanour, he symbolized all that is fair and good in this military regime’s governance mode. A professional soldier to the very core, he was required to be the focal point for inter-action between the military and the civilian establishments, given the mutual suspicion not an easy fit even in normal circumstances. As the Chief of Staff (COS) in the Chief Executive’s (CE’s) Secretariat, a seamless liaison with Islamabad’s hard-nosed bureaucracy as well as effective coordination with the various Provincial Governments, he personified the nouveau image of Martial Law fostered by Musharraf and his colleagues, benign governance depending upon logic and reason to motivate performance rather than the use of brute force. To its credit this military regime has convinced the superior judiciary to willingly devise a mode of swift justice that Army normally abrogates to itself through military courts. This unusual partnership has helped maintain the perception of the rule of law. An honest man not afraid to voice his opinion, GA was respected by his mentor, his colleagues and subordinates alike. In a very real sense he had managed to curb (and if not curb than camouflage) the aberrations that all authoritarian regimes are afflicted with, something his immediate predecessor had been displaying with real-time arrogance till the selector-in-chief sent him off to greener pastures, the loss of absolute power compensated by the US$ 10000 plus in UN pay and allowances per month. Civilian establishments are normally averse to the uniform, giving only lip-service and perfunctory loyalty while actually hating the Army’s guts, but they gave GA grudging respect as a fair and tough interlocutor. Pervez Musharraf will be hard put to maintain the credibility of the working environment his COS had fostered. In the President’s own words at GA’s Qul in Punjab House, Islamabad viz (1) he had no ego problem (2) spoke on every thing with very strong conviction (3) had a great desire for justice being imparted and (4) he was the Chief’s confidante, a colleague and friend.
Power can corrupt absolutely. Normal military life gives soldiers very few chances to make money, exceptions off course being Services and Procurement departments. Given absolute power, some soldiers do show a marked tendency to misuse it for their own benefit. Moreover arrogance usually goes with the trappings of office, affected piety notwithstanding. This military regime has been generally free of this evil but not entirely. The CE certainly has black sheep in his fold, people who have used their power and influence to enrich and oblige their friends and associates, a fine line dividing bad judgment from outright corruption. This is not an exception, all rulers usually have blind spots for misdemeanors done by aides and colleagues under their very noses e g the allotment of plots, of land for gas and petrol stations, of amenity plots converted to commercial use, for educational institution without the allottee having any background or experience of education, of doling out appointments as largesse, of protecting known purveyors and pimps knowing them to be such, of being an all-expenses paid long-term guest of a known drug smugglers when abroad, etc goes on and on. An aura of holiness cannot hide misconduct, accountability has to be even-handed. Some will definitely be the subject of accountability for the next regime, this time they may escape cynosure. These who act angelic should beware of the rage of angels. One of the benefits of allowing press freedom is that in reciprocity the print media exercises restraint, giving the ruler substantial benefit of doubt. If we are to go through the list of government and semi-government corporations that have been successfully targeted by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), it would seem some corporations have shown exemplary conduct, e.g. Pakistan Automobile Corporation (PACO), Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC), Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), Pakistan Television (PTV), State Life (SLIC) etc. Since no cases/references have been brought against them by NAB, we must accept these entities are run honestly, ie. (1) there are no kickbacks in the purchase of expensive equipment (2) all revenues are flowing in and are accounted for (3) that “ad” agencies are paying their normal dues without “special” discounts (4) that “prime time” slots are not being awarded far less than even the arrange normal price (5) that there is no need for retrenchment of staff because these Corporations are badly undermanned and (6) commissions have been given as per the agents dues, etc. That NAB sees no evil, hears no evil and therefore pursues no evil as far as these entities are concerned is not surprising, look at the Godfathers giving flank and overhead protection.
Unfortunately in Pakistan, as in many other countries of the world, non-professional attributes matter far more for than merit for success, Pervez Musharraf became COAS on merit and President by default (remember a Mian Nawaz Sharif fostered aberration called Tarar?). Unfortunately even officers of the calibre of GA fail to apprise all facts to the senior hierarchy. This is excused on grounds of time management, after all the President has many pre-occupations, internal and external. The desperate will have no other options than to resort to other means, even writing an “open letter to the President”, maybe this will get his attention focussed on the misdemeanors taking place almost under his nose. When Pervez Musharraf was in the army, his inter-action with his friends and colleagues was his private affair, when he became Chief Executive and then President, all that he does is public property including with whom he mixes with professionally and/or socially. Someone taking advantage of his friendship for personal gain can put his name and reputation in jeopardy. Give GA credit in that he did bring both good and bad news to the attention of the boss, and give the boss due credit that when such shenanigans were brought to his attention he has never shirked from taking remedial action because of personal preferences.
All leaders should be sensitive about their place in history. Media handlers can temporarily “spin” the facts to give their version to the leader but will that hold good for public perception? Eventually facts will catch up and these can be devastating. After “the thirteen days” of the Cuban missile crisis was positively resolved, John Kennedy rode a wave of favourable popular opinion, becoming a virtual shoo-in for another term as President in 1964. The faéade of “Camelot” persisted throughout his Presidency, in fact became more pronounced after his assassination in November 1963 in Dallas, Texas. If Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated in 1968, the aura of his assassinated brother would have made him President in place of Nixon. And yet history now records lurid stories of mafia connections, etc. John Kennedy’s popularity has never waned but the image of a clean-cut all-American boy evaporated. How will history visualize this regime? Score one for the President in choosing Hamid Javed to be GA’s successor, a cavalry officer (15 Lancers) of character and integrity, this workaholic did wonderful work at Heavy Industries, Taxila, making Pakistan almost self-sufficient in tanks and armoured personnel carriers. He is certainly a good choice but only time will see if he has his predecessor’s grit and steadiness, and can control his horses while emulating GA’s inbuilt humility and coolness. Moreover he must clearly show that he cannot be browbeaten into wrongdoing by vested interests among the powers-that-be.
Three years into his COAS-ship, two years into his CE-ship and several months into President-ship has shown Pervez Musharraf to be really sincere about doing something solid and tangible for the country. The majority of his choices of close aides have been good but the choices have ranged from the likes of the late GA on the one side to at least some who are the virtual pits. Unfortunately public perception is very fickle, it rarely focuses on all the good done in the world, it homes in on evil. As a keen student of history Musharraf cannot afford that all the good he has done for their country is “interred with his bones, only the evil lives after him”, to paraphrase Shakespeare in Marc Antony’s funeral oration for Julius Ceaser. The President must see to it that he does not allow his place in history to become hostage to those who put their own individual selfish gain beyond that of the country. Ask Mian Nawaz Sharif about the indispensable Saifur Rahman! In the end such “loyalty” can become an albatross around the leader’s head.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.