Monday, February 13, 2012

Pervez Musharraff: Rise and Fall


General (retd.) Pervez Musharraff has been a controversial man – both as a soldier and politician. Today, I would like to reflect about him in the larger context of how Pakistan has treated its politicians including the soldiers-turned-politicians. History is witness to the fact that Pakistan has not treated its politicians fairly and accorded them the dignity they deserve: while many Pakistani politicians – Zulfikar Ali and Benazir Bhutto and Zia-ul Haq included – faced violent deaths, some of them were thrown out of their elected office (Bhutto, Shariff et. al.), and some others have criminal charges pending against them. Musharraff himself survived a number of assassination attempts, have criminal cases pending against him in Pakistani courts and was indirectly forced out of office. Today, he is unable to return to Pakistan and his political legacy is questioned and challenged by even those who stood by him during his heydays. The Pakistani political system has a tendency to vilify their leaders.

I am no supporter of Musharraff. In fact, I think his time is over and it is perhaps best for him not to return to Pakistan. After all, in politics, time is everything. One of the reasons why I would like to write this piece about him is because of my recent visit to Munich to attend the Munich Security Conference (MSC). The meeting was attended by over 400 participants including Hillary Clinton, John McCain, US Defense Secretary, many Prime Ministers, Defense and Foreign Ministers from around the world. I saw Musharraff twice, seated in the 5th or 6th row like an ordinary participant. Someone, one of his staff members I guess, approached me thinking that I was a Pakistani participant and told me that the German and international media covering MSC was not giving any importance to the former President and that I should do what I can to get him more media attention. Of course, I had neither the resources nor the willingness to do anything about it. But then that’s not the point of this story. This was a complete contrast to 2005 when I had met him in his office in Islamabad. I was very impressed by his ideas about Kashmir and way he visualized Indo-Pak relations. Musharraff, then, was at the pinnacle of his regime and was indeed one of the most sought-after leaders in the region. He was courted by the Americans, the Europeans and was thought of even by the Indians as the man who could bring peace between the two nuclear rivals.

Musharraff is a much troubled former military dictator today. His return to Pakistan is uncertain. He is likely to be arrested and tried for a number of cases pending against him in Pakistan. While on the one hand, the major political parties in the country would consider him as an absolute anathema, there is no popular mood in support of him either. Even Imran Khan, who Musharraff thought of allying with, has refused to do so. Musharraff apparently has no political ally left in the country. Pervez Musharraff is a much unwanted man in Pakistan’s siasat today.

What about his ideas and initiatives on conflict resolution? Will the embattled leader’s ideas, especially the ones relating to India in general and Kashmir in particular, survive the political downturn that his legacy is witnessing in the country today? Well, no one seems to be sure of that. No one wants identity with him and his ideas especially when it is not sure whether or not he is returning to Pakistan and what will happen to him if he does return. Even those who were close to him have been saying that they have no knowledge of whatever he said or did.

Understandably, this is not liked by a lot of people in Kashmir for they had not only appreciated the Musharraff formula for Kashmir but had also pinned their hopes on him and his formula to get a better political deal for them. Although in today’s Pakistan not everyone is very happy to endorse Musharraff’s ideas, the fact is that the rethinking he began about India and Kashmir in Islamabad is not all over. Many actors, including political parties, may be willing to accept his formula if New Delhi pushes for it but without the ‘Musharraff tag’ attached to it.

Musharraf was an accepted Pakistani leader in New Delhi while he was in power and his ideas on Kashmir had a lot of takers here. When negotiating with him, New Delhi was willing to downplay his legacy of Kargil for the sake of reaching an amicable solution on Kashmir. However, the mood in New Delhi seems to have changed and a lot of people here now prefer to remember him as the architect of Kargil - which he is – not as the Pakistani leader India negotiated the longest and most successful peace process with.

The rise and fall of Musharraf holds significant lessons for democracy, peace processes and especially for a potential political solution to the Kashmir conflict. However, what is important for us is to keep in mind that although we may or may not like the political careers or political lives of some of our political leaders, we must not malign their good deeds or emancipatory political ideas they pursued with vision.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, 12 FEBRUARY 2012, URL: )

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