Wednesday, May 8, 2013

An open letter to Gen Pervez Musharraf – the ‘irresponsible commando’

“HAVE YOU EVER BEEN THROWN into the deep end of a swimming pool? People say that this is the best way to learn to swim, because if you don’t, you sink.”
Gen Pervez Musharraf, how I cherished those ‘prophetic’ opening lines from chapter 16 of your autobiography, In the Line of Fire. By returning from exile this year, clearly you made a good attempt to learn, but sank in the end. Believe that, Mr Musharraf. Your beloved Pakistan; the US, your strongest ally once; and might I just say Allah – they never believed you. At least you believe them, now.
Pakistan doesn’t want you, General saab. The message is clear, but I will repeat it for you – A cold welcome at the airport on your return after almost four years, the nominal presence of your supporters, death threats from the Taliban; a plethora of accusations; house arrest and judicial custody followed by the final nail in the coffin – a lifetime ban from contesting election.
This is the first time a court in Pakistan had declared a citizen ineligible from contesting elections for life. It gives me immense pleasure to say that you have many firsts to your credits, sir. You are also the first former army chief to be arrested in Pakistan and the proud recipient of the title – Bush’s poodle!
Standing at the deep end of a swimming pool, the least you could have done, Mr Musharraf, was to at least analyse the water before taking the plunge, especially since the water where you intended to take a dip, was troubled, muddled and unsettled. And who knows Pakistan better than you, General? THE TIME had written about you – “Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf holds the world’s most dangerous job.” Need I remind you Musharraf saab that your country remains the world’s most dreaded place?
My friend and South Asia expert, Dr S. Chandrasekharan calls it an ‘unworthy decision’. This is what he told me on chat: “He (Musharraf) overestimated his own importance to Pakistan’s polity as also the influence of the Army in ensuring his free run in the country.  Musharraf is a trained commando and he behaved like a commando.  He jumped into the fray like a commando without thinking of the consequences and without an “exit” strategy.”
Why are you so careless, Mr Musharraf? How can you be so irresponsible as to repeat your mistakes? We saw your irresponsible ‘commando’ action in Kargil, which almost brought India and Pakistan to war.
I loved your ramblings and musings in your memoir about how much you have done for Pakistan and how much you intend to do. According to IMF, Pakistan was the third fastest growing economy after China and India during your era. In 2002, the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) was declared the “Best Performing Stock Market of the World for the year 2002.” You did all that, really? Or was it the US?
“Musharraf was lucky that 9/11 happened in his time and US came to his rescue. It was fortuitous that US had to depend on Pakistan for its operations in Afghanistan.  Pakistan being the conduit, it earned enough money and this kept the economy floating and not due to any super efforts of Musharraf.” Dr Chandrasekharan argued when I mentioned about your achievements.
Sorry, Mr Musharraf, I do not want to take these brownie points from you, but things that you have undone for Pakistan, outrightly outweighs things that you have done for Pakistan. Here are a few I read in Islamabad’s The Nation newspaper recently:
  • Compromising Pakistan’s sovereignty by siding with America’s war against Islam.
  • Surrendering Pakistani air bases, waterways, military assets and intelligence agencies to the Americans.
  • Giving unprecedented access to American intelligence agencies and army personal to roam freely within the country.
  • Putting Pakistan’s strategic assets, such as the county’s nuclear weapons, under the watchful eye of the Americans.
  • Responsible for the massacre of innocent Pakistani civilians in the tribal areas.
  • The indiscriminate murder of the men and women at Lal Masjid.
  • Responsible for the abduction, torture and killings of hundreds of Pakistani citizens, and chief culprit in the debasing of Dr Aafia Siddiqui.
You really did that much for America, Mr Musharraf? You should probably get this recent statement from the US embassy framed for life (doesn’t matter if it is the prison wall) – “This is an issue to be resolved solely in accordance with Pakistan’s Constitution and laws. The United States… does not support any particular political party or individual candidate.”
As for your own countrymen, you know them and their basic nature better than me, sir – they do not forget and don’t even mention the word ‘forgive’ to them. You have very little time left, Mr Musharraf, to help yourself because the Pakistanis are good at taking revenge. Now, don’t you ask that to an Indian!
I have a few options, but I don’t know what works for you, considering the flip flop attitude you have had all your life. Nevertheless, for the sake of humanity, I present a few of them –
Try and make peace with the Taliban. You have reached a deal before with the Waziristan militants before in 2006. So how about turning things a bit and earn their favour? That’s the toughest option because you burnt bridges during the Lal Masjid fiasco and given the animosity and the house arrest, which prevents your movement, your chances of succeeding are remote.
The army still has a soft corner for you. The Pakistan army will not let one of its former chiefs being humiliated. Says Dr Chandrasekharan: “House arrest is okay but the civil and the judiciary will have to be careful as the army will be watching and this is no time to provoke the Pakistan Army.” Your humble colleague, Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani, has expressed disappointment over how authorities have treated you since your return from exile.
The most doable option right now for you would be to return to exile, which would amount to loss of face but it would be better for you and best for Pakistan.  Dr Chandrasekharan feels this is what you were thinking while you packed your bags in London: “He thought he was “saving” Pakistan, but his presence and the ongoing cases which are serious will create problems for him.”
For the last option to happen, you must, like Dr, A.Q. Khan, appear on the national television and apologise to your countrymen and you must cry Mr Musharraf – tough for an armyman, yet you must do that to assure a safe, smooth exit from Pakistan. What an irony for you, a Pakistani!
Thank you Musharraf saab for lending an ear. Let me again close my confessions with lines from your memoir. “…They (Pakistanis) deserve a committed, selfless leadership, which can help them realise their boundless potential.”
Mr Musharraf, Pakistan doesn’t want a leader who lacks foresight and jumps into the well without testing its waters. No country would ever want that type. Pakistan needs a leader, not an enfant terrible!
Yet, I salute you because you dared. You are not an escapist because you tried, but the try wasn’t worthy enough. Try harder next time Mr Musharraf, if you can keep your hopes alive and if you still have the will to fight back. But learn your lessons well before doing that.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Painting hope amid darkness

Stories from South Asia are as much of diversity as they are of displacements and mounting discontents. And if it is Kashmir, it may well be of unending  disappearances. 
The same goes for the Northeast, the north and east of Sri Lanka. And the rest of the region. In her debut collection of short stories — False Sanctuaries: Stories from the Troubled Territories of South Asia — journalist-turned-writer Meenakshi Iyer threads the struggles of men and women of South Asia who face extraordinary obstacles in pursuing their ordinary dreams.
Set against the backdrop of India’s Partition, the first story ‘From Delhi to Derajat’, which covers only slightly less than half of the pages of the book, details a Hindu Punjabi man’s longing to go back to the place he called ‘home’ — others now call it Pakistan. With the help of his grandson, he ventures out of India in a ripe age only to romance with the past and to die in the company of those with whom he grew up.

False Sanctuaries: The Times Of India/India Today review

You cannot shun war and run away from the death and destruction that follows you. You cannot dodge the fear of terrorism, bomb blasts or a fidayeen. You cannot shut yourself to the latest round of intifada or Kani Jung, threatening to suck life out of your hinges.

You cannot avoid these things in the 21st century's new war zone - South Asia. Yet you live, smile, shake off the dust as if nothing happened and move on, braving all odds and, YOU are the hero of 'False Sanctuaries: Stories from the troubled territories of South Asia'.

Freelance journalist and South Asia observer Meenakshi Iyer's debut book is about people in this sub-continent who have kept their hopes alive in hopeless situations, who have failed, or have been failed by their governments, and have yet moved on, alone and undeterred, to face fresh threats awaiting them....


"My book is a celebration of hope"

I spoke to Jonathan Vikram Pradhan of Hindustan about my first book - False Sanctuaries: Stories from the Troubled Territories of South Asia. Click here to read the interview...