Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Musharraf | The second coming

Branches and leaves will keep growing unless we uproot the tree.

– Pervez Musharraf comparing terrorists to a tree, with terror outfits being its branches.

Pervez Musharraf may not have been a perfect leader, but ever since he was forced out of office, the country’s democracy is still a far cry, internal security has been on a wane and relations with India have taken a nosedive.

The former president’s departure is not the sole cause of the deterioration but one year on, Pakistan is a country on the brink.

Roughly a year back, President Asif Zardari entered office vowing to take more effective action against the Taliban and other Islamic insurgents and clearly that has not happened. Terrorist attacks are at an all time high, with at least one attack per week.

Taliban militants have made six major strikes in Pakistan in the past two weeks, with the major ones targeting three security establishments in Lahore killing at least 14 people.

Even as the land of pure tries to stamp out the Taliban in South Waziristan, militants have unleashed a wave of commando-style raids and suicide bomb attacks in Islamabad, the eastern city of Lahore and Peshawar in the country's northwest.

In a latest strike, two suicide bombers attacked an Islamic university in Islamabad, killing five people and wounding several others, adding to the string of attacks throughout the country that have claimed the lives of over 80 people in October alone.

All this leads to one pertinent question: Was Pakistan safer under Musharraf? Was Musharraf a better leader than Zardari?

Musharraf’s rule of Pakistan was marked by civil unrest and an uneasy alliance with the United States and he survived more than one attempt on his life. But the deluge of terror Pakistan is facing today was unheard of during his tenure.

Musharraf said he himself tried to eradicate terrorism from Pakistan even before 9/11, when the United States sought his help to capture Al Qaeda operatives and their leader, Osama bin Laden.

In a Stanford University appearance early this year, the former Pakistan President claimed that during his regime, the army managed to “eliminate 700 Al Qaeda operatives, including 45 key figures.”

Recent polls show that the Zardari government's approval ratings have fallen to levels comparable to the lowest recorded by Musharraf while in power.

The government is under fire not only for the faltering economy, but also for bowing to Taliban demands for the imposition of Islamic law in the Swat Valley.

Analysts agree that Musharraf did a fine job of keeping the Islamic tinderbox together. Former CIA official Michael Scheuer, who headed the agency’s counter-terror unit dedicated to tracking Osama bin Laden, believes that Pakistan was safer under Musharraf.

In an interview to BBC early this year, Scheuer had stated that the Lahore terrorist attack on Sri Lankan cricketers was a direct result of the West's insistence on replacing Musharraf with a democratically-elected president in Pakistan.

India’s National Security Advisor MK Narayanan is of the opinion that Musharraf was a better deal for India compared to the present government in Islamabad.

"I think as far as India was concerned, with regard to the questions we had on Kashmir, etc, it was possible to do business with him (Musharraf). And I think our Prime Minister's now very well worn statement, namely that 'I can do business with president Musharraf' is now widely recognised as being part of the truth," Narayanan had told a private news channel.

When asked whether Pakistan has become a more difficult or more complicated country, after General Musharraf resigned, Narayanan replied in the positive.

Musharraf's popularity has grown all the more after his resignation and several pro-Musharraf websites and groups on social networking sites have emerged.

In the most recent interview with Musharraf, Daphne Barak admits that she receives mails and people have started missing Musharraf: "Many emails are relatively flattering to you. I even have emails from PPP members who say that they never thought they will miss you, but they do. Especially young people!"

“I support Musharraf policies which were directed towards controlling and exterminating extremism, strengthening relationships with neighbouring states including India and starting development process in the backward areas of Pakistan. Being a Democrat I cannot support military government yet I cannot withhold my support for anyone who does right things…,” says Naveed Awan, a resident of Rawalpindi, Pakistan.


But there is a school of thought that blames Musharraf for today’s Pakistan.

In a recent interview to this author, Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit, University of Bradford said that “the seeds of all that is happening now were sown during the Musharraf era. It was Musharraf that supported extremist religious-political groups like the MMA; Musharraf who continued the army's support of militant groups like the LeT; Musharraf who tolerated or supported [depending on what you believe] the return of the Taliban Afghanistan between 2002-2007, and it was Musharraf who diverted so many of Pakistan's scarce resources to the Army when this money should have been invested in raising the living conditions and education and employment opportunities of ordinary Pakistanis”.

An editorial in the leading Pakistani newspaper, The Daily Times, also blames former President for the Taliban terror in the country.

“The rise of the Taliban terror happened on Musharraf’s watch. He kept the army on a tight leash as the population went under the control of Baitullah Mehsud in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Fazlullah in Swat,” the editorial said.

“It is clear that Musharraf had no clue about the Frankenstein created by his procrastination. He looked the other way while the Taliban attacked across the Durand Line into Afghanistan,” it added.

Muhammad Asad, a common man from Islamabad, who dreams of peace returning to Pakistan, has hard feelings for Bush’s ‘poodle’ but he doesn’t spare Zardari either.

“Musharraf was not catering the interests of Pakistan, from the day he took over… Under the present situation everything is right apart from President Zardari and some of his cronies. Zardari has gone two steps forward in doing what Musharraf was doing – catering to America’s interests.”

The resurrection

From the sweeping presidential palace of Islamabad to an unassuming three-bedroom flat behind the shisha bars and kebab joints of London’s Arabic quarter – the return seems tough but Musharraf’s not the one to give up.

Speaking to the media after a dinner hosted in his honor by the Pakistani-American Community of New York recently, the General said that he will “make a decision based on the wishes of the people of Pakistan.”

Some observers say that this meant Musharraf’s entry in politics is almost a done deal. Others call his statement ‘delusional’.

Also this Eid, the former president ruled out the possibility of another coup and said that he will return home under pleasant conditions.

In May 2009, he hinted to CNN that he would “do something for” Pakistan if it was “in trouble”; and on August 24 Musharraf’s counsel, Fawad Chaudhury, told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn that Musharraf was “mulling all options to play a direct or indirect role in the country’s politics”.

Chaudhury also revealed that Musharraf was urging PML-Q to reunite after it split into two blocs earlier this year.

On September 8, Dawn quoted Musharraf loyalists as saying he was in “constant touch” with the PML-Q’s breakaway faction, which could provide the former president with a way back into Pakistani politics.

According to a media report, former president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf’s recent admission that he misused American aid money while in office appears to be part of a strategy aimed at paving a way for his eventual return to power.

His remarks appear to have been designed to position him as a patriot – an attempt to rehabilitate his image and increase support for him among the Pakistani public after being widely perceived as an American puppet during his nine-year rule, says a report in the International Relations and Security Network.

Musharraf’s chance will come at the next scheduled elections in 2013 and his loyalists insist that he still has lot more to offer Pakistan than do his squabbling successors.

Critics insist that the military despot’s return to power will tough considering the number of court cases against him. He is accused of treason – among other things – for suspending the constitution and sacking chief justice Chaudhry in November 2007.

"It seems that the former President is trying to embarrass the government…He will not succeed because of the baggage he is carrying. The damage he has done to civil society and government institutions is too great. He will not be rehabilitated,” President Asif Ali Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar, was quoted as saying in Time magazine.

In the same report, Aftab Sherpao, who had been a member of Musharraf's Cabinet, said that his former boss mistakenly nurtures political ambitions. "I think he's interested," says the former Interior Minister. "He's been in the power game for so long that now he's lost it. He feels there's a vacuum. He feels that there are people who still look up to him. I'm sure that people around him are suggesting that these politicians who are running the country are not capable."


Anything is possible in politics and Musharraf’s second coming won’t be a moment of shock and awe.

The Musharraf era demonstrated that civilian governments and military regimes can be equally bad at governance. He may or may not be a good leader, but has left a deep imprint on Pakistani politics.

The military dictator definitely stands tall and stands apart when compared with crop of leaders like Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto. One of Musharraf’s few talents was his ability to assure people, which his predecessors and successors lacked.

Take it or leave it, but to make thinks work in Pakistan, one has to aptly balance the ISI, the Army as well as the Mullahs. Musharraf at least gave that hope.

His intentions were never bad for Pakistan, but his policies backfired. He was responsible for his own doom and hope he learns his lessons before staging a comeback.

As for Pakistan, with or without Musharraf, the Islamic nation’s well-being now depends on countering internal terror that is carving out autonomous zones in the tribal belt along the Afghan border and slowly making it to major cities of Pakistan.

Pakistan Paindabad!


nishant said...

Terrorists went underground during Musharraf's rule. With Zardari (read civilian) government taking over, it's now free for all. ISI is playing in the hands of the Taliban and the country has gone to the terrorists. On top of this, US govt is doling out millions in aid....we all know where the most of it goes...in nurturing terrorists. Army rule can only save Pakistan.

Rashid Junejo said...

Pakistan doesn't need Musharraf. The only hope for Pak was Benazir Bhutto, but sadly she is no more... Pakistan's only hope is bhagwan..The Army is above everything here...

Supriya Mishra said...

Musharraf couldn't have done anything... in fact no one can do anything.. the country's state of affairs currently is a result of several years of ill governance.. and u r right Meenakshi.. Democracy is not an option with organisation like ISI running in Pak!

Hassan K Rizvi said...

Well written and very well concluded. Pakistan has run out of options as regards a good leader. The country faces severe leadership crisis at the moment. Among the present breed of politicians, I do not have hopes from anyone. I quite agree Ms Iyer that Taliban was controlled under Musharraf, but sooner or later the ticking Taliban bomb had to explode. And it did during Zardari's tenure, which is his ill luck. HKR/Peshawar

Abir said...

I pray he stays above the kebab shop for good. What makes you think that he can do miracles for Pakistan? Nobody can save Pakistan..not even Allah. The meddling of countries like US are making the situation worse. I don't see a Pakistan existing 10 years down the line.