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The Great Dictator?

The jubilation in the streets of Pakistan is understandable. That is what streets are for. But when downright corrupt politicians begin talking about democracy and the downfall of a dictator, then they do take hallucination to great heights.

Pakistan cannot be a democracy, for there is nothing like an Islamic democracy, however egalitarian the believers are convinced their religion is. A religious construct cannot subsume a social ideology.

It is imperative to see how President Pervez Musharraf has worked within the confines of such a stringent ethos to make Pakistan a modern theocracy. There will be many a naysayer, but we need to think of the barriers he had to face. Merely running down army rule in a country that has lived with it several times is a narrow vision.

Today, the people of Pakistan are rejoicing over the defeat of some fanatic elements. They ought to realise that it was Musharraf who had stuck his neck out against them. While Jemima Khan is busy trying out her role as Robert Fisk behind a lattice screen, she conveniently forgets that her ex-husband had the strong backing of the Islamists, being a born-again Islamist himself. His was a politically-driven reinvention. Musharraf did not fall prey to that. Like all politicians, he only suffered from delusions of grandeur and the occasional bout of amnesia.

I have often been asked why Indians like Musharraf. It certainly is not his public relations skills or the much-touted breakfast in 2002 at Agra. A man who refers to the former chief justice, an issue that did and still can cause trouble for him, as a “scumbag” is not a particularly good candidate for diplomacy.

Here is one man who lacks charisma, but look closely and there is the familiar austerity camouflaging a smooth shrewdness. While pushing his opponents to defensive positions, he is being defensive as well.

He is the statesman without a state. An immigrant from Delhi who moved to Turkey where he found some inspiration from Kemal Ataturk, he probably represents the rootlessness of several people who do not have tribal loyalties. To his credit, he has never banked on his mohajir identity.

Musharraf’s biggest problem was how to cope with the religious zealots, not because America told him so but because he had to acclimatise himself to mores that did not appear intrinsic to his personality. In some ways he was like a new convert ­ he tried too hard. And that effort occasionally came across as sincerity which, as Oscar Wilde said, is the greatest vice of the fanatic.

Being an armyman his attachment to the land hinged on a permanent war-like situation. It was akin to living out of a mental suitcase. There are very many reasons provided for his reluctance to give up his uniform. One of them was his undoubted insecurity.

Therefore, there has been a tendency to think out of the box a bit too much. His “bombshell” a few years ago that New Delhi should withdraw its armed forces from three Kashmir cities ­ Srinagar, Kupwara, and Baramullah ­ and the two countries should jointly ensure that there was no terrorism in the Valley had met with cynicism. India has always maintained that Pakistan is responsible for terrorist infiltration.

Given this, we would still have to take into account that even the local Kashmiri militant organisations in India insist on tripartite talks. Pakistan can ensure peace because it has been dealing with what it calls Azad Kashmir and we call Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Incidentally, Musharraf had gone on record to say that he had banned many such organisations and those that have come up under different guises were on the ‘watch list’. He also stated that although he could not give a certificate, he would ensure that if any such incident occurred he would himself bring the organisation or person to book.

He made these comments on a public forum before the cameras. If anything, he would be in trouble.

In India we do tend to gloat over the regular military coups that take place and how Pakistan is nothing but a puppet regime, its strings pulled by western powers. Do we truly believe that the West is sparing us because we do not have problems? No. The simple reason is that we are a bigger marketplace and the ‘civil war’ within our boundaries is too diverse and unlikely to make any radical difference to the West.

Interestingly, it is the West that has buffered dictators and strife within nations, the latter giving rise to terrorism that it is now purportedly fighting against. Worst of all, it encourages disputes.

Pakistan is being looked at for the second possibility, but with some element of caution. Which is why in a ridiculous manner, the dictator was sometimes ticked off for abetting terrorism. A dictator ought to squash dissent. So, how did President Musharraf qualify as a dictator? Only because some magazine in the US stated, “Two years after seizing power in a military coup that overthrew an elected government, Musharraf appointed himself president. He recently agreed to step down as head of the military, then reversed his decision”?

The idea behind the double whammy was devious. If Musharraf was somebody who forcibly came to power to restore order in his country, then as head of a ‘terrorist state’ he would be out of bounds with a license to kill. It would work well in the Texan brawl fantasy.

Musharraf is the underdog. What the US might have liked is for him to toe its idea of the Arab line. In this context, Pakistan is snug in its Islamic identity and anytime it decides to get atop a camel, it will be coitus interruptus for the Occidental orgasm.

Was Musharraf merely a hard-nosed dictator? Joseph Nye has demarcated between a “soft power”, which has the ability of the state to get “other countries to want what it wants”, and a “hard power” that is based on economic and military strength. If we look at it in this context, then his peace proposal with India did not require any constitutional amendment. This was thinking on the feet, rather than being trapped beneath the debris of bureaucracy.

He was asked whether the internal turmoil would come in the way of the peace process. He had an apt response, “18 insurgency movements going on in India ­ does it stop the peace process? I am not bogged down.”

The confusion has been entirely India’s. Pakistan, on the other hand, is pretty accustomed to the routine. It has to cope with what Huntington called the revival of non-western cultures, a military regime that is always strong and a democracy that has not done much for peace.

It is time for Pakistanis to accept that their elected governments have not produced the best leaders. Merely going to the polls is not fortification enough. The real enemies have always lived in hiding in foreign lands. Ironically, it takes a dictator to say, even as his power could turn to puff, “This is not an ideal society.”

By projecting himself as the kingmaker, Musharraf has now got the whispering gallery agog. A fitting denouement for a man whose boots are made for talking.

Farzana Versey is the author of the forthcoming book A Journey Interrupted: An Indian Muslim Woman in Pakistan, Harper Collins. She can be reached at kaaghaz.kalam@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

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