Entering the political arena for any soldier is like an infantryman trying to cross a minefield covered by massed artillery including a fair amount of air-bursts. Being a commando, Pervez Musharraf is certainly more infantarian than a gunner, moreover he is anything but “lean and mean”. Calling for a referendum seeking the peoples’ approval of his policies for the past 30 months and continuation as President thereof past Oct 2002, the President proceeded not to heed the advice of a small number of his real friends who were deadset against any Referendum, he went with the majority, i.e. the “yes-men”.
Informed legal eagles are both for and against the Referendum, making constitutionality a matter of legal opinion depending upon which side you represent, so that is not reason for apprehension. The electability of Pervez Musharraf is also not a source for worry, he is extremely popular among the masses and the polls predict a good percentage will vote for him to stay in power and continue his governing the country, or rather, his monitoring of good governance of the country. What is worrisome is that while he has been very effective in ruling the country by single fiat without association with any politicians, in this new political environment, one he (and we) could have done without, he has to be vary of perceived friend and foe alike. It was scary looking at the politicians in the front row in Lahore on April 9.
According to electronic call-in polling conducted by ARY Digital TV over the past week “Referendum on Referendum”, uptil now the calls are running 70-30 in his favour in Pakistan and 85:15 from outside Pakistan. While the domestic numbers are excellent, the percentage from abroad is more significant. The President has gained a reputation of honesty and ability, Sep 11 has force-multiplied this perception among Pakistani expatriates abroad. Keeping in view that a large segment of the population does not have telephones (or for that matter potable drinking water), the aggregate should be around 65:35 in the President’s favour. From total helplessness, verging almost on apathy, there is now hope among the masses. While Pakistan is not exactly awash with milk and honey, good governance and accountability instituted by the Musharraf regime has respectively steadied the deteriorating lifestyle and stopped the looting of whatever little milk and honey remained in stock. While corruption is alive and well in Pakistan, it is almost extinct in high places. Except for Pakistan TV which seems to be a sacred cow as far as NAB is concerned (they simply don’t have courage to touch the muck in PTV), almost all government and semi-government departments have been screened and found corrupt from top to bottom.
Why did some who support the President remain deadset against the Referendum? The President’s credibility is something to cherish and protect, the process leading to the Referendum will tarnish this credibility. To get a good-sized crowd into the Pakistan Minar surroundings, the “more loyal-than-the-king” administrators in the Punjab ran riot and did the President no favour by being heavy-handed in their requisitioning of vehicles, the common man suffering because of a lack of public transport. The people would have come anyway in droves to see the President speak, they did not need this over-kill. The great silent majority of people in Pakistan support Musharraf out of conviction, not out of any coercion. While Tariq Aziz was necessary as a “barrel warmer” (having done the same for 30 years for the likes of Bhutto, Ziaul Haq and Nawaz Sharif), as a retired three-star general, Khalid Maqbool owes it to the uniform he once wore not to have got carried away and acted like a clown, such histrionics are counter-productive. His boss delivered an excellent speech with good grace and demeanor a few minutes later, quite focussed on issues of relevance. Other than his PR and security detail, the the khakis should not have been associated with politics so blatantly. Lt Gen Zarrar Azim, Corps Commander 4 Corps, had no business sitting in uniform on the stage. What was he trying to prove? The President’s political appearance a la Lahore was necessary to mobilize public opinion but the Army cannot be seen to be politicized so publicly. The President has to make sure that his minions do not embarrass him (and us) in the future by behaving like bloody fools.
Since the President needed to know that the people of Pakistan support him and his policies, he was prepared to take the risk as well as the collateral damage to his reputation. The Referendum exercise will bring the President down a few notches from the pedestal he presently occupies. In his own words, “nothing risked nothing gained”. As an honest and sincere man who has brought stability and good sense to a nation that was drifting dangerously into an abyss, Pervez Musharraf has given outstanding leadership in very difficult times. A decisive person, he has governed efficiently and effectively. Despite the fact that the team around him, though generally honest, has been with a few exceptions of sub-standard quality, he has inculcated good governance in letter and spirit, quite a bit has trickled down to good-effect for the common man. A good listener, the President accepts advice that is logical and well presented, he has been ill-served by “yes-men” who failed to advise him correctly about the pitfalls of politicking, particularly for a soldier, particularly for a soldier in Pakistan. Rather than subject this man to the nonsense that he will face because of the referendum, they should have had the guts to speak the truth.
While no person is indispensable, given the present world economic and security environment, Pervez Musharraf’s courageous decision-making has been very much admired internationally. The respect he has earned abroad is reflected in the changed attitude of many countries for the positive for Pakistan. For years we have been the target of adverse Indian propaganda, not only has he been effective about countering the propaganda, he has made the spurious defamation look what it is, mainly hogwash. He has restored our self-respect among the comity of nations and put us back on course within the parameters of civilized society, something the Talibaan were pushing us out of quite assiduously.
Given that I did not agree about the referendum mainly because it would tarnish his credibility, I support him out of the fatalism that since he has taken this course, I have no choice. I am one of those who feel strongly that without this Army there is no country and while the Army has certainly made mistakes over the years, the fact that we are still a nation is because the Army’s successes far outnumber the failures. Pakistan exists because the Army follows one single discipline behind its Chief and as long as this remain a fact we will remain united and we will remain strong. So even normally I would have no choice, it has to be the Army Chief, right or wrong! Luckily for my conscience, Pervez Musharraf’s many qualities force-multiplies this choice. He is the only leader we have who is credible, he is good for Pakistan, in fact he is all that we have! I am interested in the singer and what the song will accomplish, not the making of it.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).