Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where have all the general’s cheerleaders gone? I

Arun Shourie: Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ulti ho gayin sab tadbirein, kuchch na dawa ne kaam kiya — every stratagem has boomeranged, no potion works. That’s Pervez Musharraf’s predicament today, writes Arun Shourie in a three-part series on Pakistan beginning today

The only persons who could have been surprised by what Musharraf has done are the Americans - who had invested everything in him, and as a consequence just would not see - and Musharraf’s acolytes here in India. Here is one of the most deceitful men we have had to deal with. It is not just that he was the architect of Kargil. Here is a general who insisted that the Pakistani army had nothing to do with Kargil, so much so that he did one of the most dishonourable things that any armyman can do: he refused to accept bodies of soldiers who had died in the operation he had himself planned. And yet the same man claims in his book that Kargil was one of the most successful operations of the Pakistani army! Here is a man who has repeatedly dishonoured his word — pledged to the people of Pakistan, to its courts — about sticking to his office. Here is a man who has repeatedly issued decrees exempting himself from law, from his pledged word. Here, then, has been a personification of deceit. And yet, what a buildup he has had in India — eulogising him has been almost a fashion-statement among many Indian journalists.

And not just among journalists. The very highest in this government allowed themselves to be persuaded by the Americans that we should do something that would strengthen Musharraf, as he was the best, it would seem the only option for us. Of course, they were nudged into accepting American ‘advice’ by that one mental ability they have in abundance — the ability to conjure wishfulfilling thoughts, thoughts that exempt them from standing the ground. This combination — American ‘theses’ and conjured rationalisations — led them to almost make a grand gesture of Siachin to bolster Musharraf, and yet again buy ‘peace in our time’, and that too under the exact camouflage that an American think-tank had stitched up. We have to thank Musharraf: by the morass he has created for himself, he has saved us from our do-gooders.

Yet his cleverness had convinced me long ago about the pass he would reach. For, in the end, few things do a ruler in as surely as cleverness. This is especially so when cleverness is combined with audacity, the ‘commando’s audacity’ that so many among our chatterati came to admire in Musharraf. For this audacity spurs the person to, among other things, lie outright. Soon, though not soon enough, karma catches up. A stage arrives when everything such a ruler does, recoils.

If he moves against the Taliban, he is in trouble. If he does not, he is in trouble. If he does not let American forces chase the Taliban into Pakistani territory, he is in trouble. If he lets them do so, he is in deeper trouble. If he does not storm the Lal Masjid, he is in trouble. If he does, he is in deeper trouble. If he does not remove the chief justice, he is in trouble. If he removes him, his troubles are just beginning. If he gives up his uniform, he can’t rely on the army. If he does not, he can’t rely either on his nemesis, the Supreme Court, or his sole prop, the Americans. If he lets Nawaz Sharif stay, he is in trouble. If he does not, he is in trouble. If he rigs elections again, he has to rely even more on the religious parties and fundamentalists, and he falls deeper in trouble. If he does not rig them, he is finished. Unless he throws the judges out, he is out. Now that he has thrown them out, even his patrons are insisting he bring them back — ulti ho gayin sab tadbirein — every stratagem has boomeranged — kuchch na dawa ne kaam kiya — no potion works!

Once a ruler reaches this pit, anyone and everyone who associates with him, gets tarnished. Americans and Musharraf got conflated: Musharraf came to be seen as the stooge of the Americans; Americans came to be seen as the ventriloquists. Whatever he did was attributed to them: ‘He could do none of this but for the fact that the Americans are behind him.’ And whatever the Americans did came to be pasted on him. As they came to be seen to be waging an out-and-out war against Islam, he came to be seen as the instrument of the enemies of Islam. Convinced, though, they have remained that he is indispensable for them, even the Americans came to realise the heavy cost that association with him was bringing upon them. But the Chinese came to suffer too: they were seen to have been the immediate trigger for the assault on the Lal Masjid, as it followed the kidnapping of Chinese women on the charge that they were running a brothel in Islamabad. (For their part, the Chinese have been increasingly concerned about the Uighurs who have been receiving training in Pakistani madrassas and terrorist camps.) The Saudis too, were shocked by the wave of resentment that hit them upon their being parties to the deportation of Nawaz Sharif. This was one of the main reasons for their subsequent decision to endorse Sharif’s proposal that he return.

And so did everyone within Pakistan who was associated with Musharraf. The ‘Q’ in the name of the faction of the Muslim League that had walked over to him — the PML-Q — came to stand not for ‘Quaid’ after Jinnah, but for an abuse. Look at Benazir till the attack on her procession. She lost heavily when it became known that she had struck a deal with Musharraf. Of course, the ignominy was compounded by two factors: as the deal was seen to have been authored by the Americans, it was contaminated from the very start. Worse, it became known that Benazir had been negotiating terms with Musharraf even as she was signing the Charter of Democracy with Nawaz Sharif — a charter in which both of them pledged that they would never have anything to do with a military dictator. It is only the attack on her procession, and the subsequent snuffing out of the Constitution that has helped restore some of her reputation. But no institution has suffered as much by association with Musharraf as the army: as he came to be seen as the instrument of the enemy, the army, which he controlled, came to be seen as the instrument of the instrument of the enemy...

What a pass for a ruler to reach.

And rulers are brought to this pass by their own stratagems. No ruler after Zia ul Haq gave as big a boost to religious parties and to terrorist groups as Musharraf. It is because of the way he rigged the assembly and provincial elections and the alliance he formed with them that the religious parties — which used to get 5 to 7 per cent of the popular vote — got to form governments in NWFP as well as Balochistan, and to become such a significant factor in the National Assembly. The consequence was as predictable as it has been disastrous. With governance in the hands of religious parties, for instance, the Taliban and Al Qaida acquired an open field in NWFP, and from there into FATA.

Similarly, his premise — one that he set out in as many words — that jihad is an instrument of state policy, and the way he patronised and facilitated terrorism in Kashmir, for instance, has had the same consequence. In her recent study, The Counterterror Coalitions, Cooperation with Pakistan and India, Christine Fair puts it well: one consequence of the jihad in Kashmir and that for the acquisition of Afghanistan, she writes, has been that ‘the concept of jihad has attained an unassailable stature,’ and ‘the political capital’ of groups engaged in it has multiplied several fold. And you can see the end result, even for Musharraf: recall the way he and his government remained paralysed for months in the face of what was being done in and around Lal Masjid. Second, she points out, it has meant that organised criminal groups have been able to extend their operations and reach within Pakistan itself under the banner of jihad. Third, over the past few years, new alliances and coalitions have come to be formed among the various groups. The operational consequence of the latter is just as evident, and it is one of the things that eventually led even his patrons in the US to conclude that he was not doing enough to curb terrorists: when the US or NATO allies were told that steps had indeed been taken against the terrorist groups whom they wanted brought to heel, they were soon disillusioned. And for the obvious reason: when one of the groups was targeted, all that its members had to do was to shift to the adjacent group in the coalition.

Two other features broke through during the last few months: that Musharraf was losing control, and that he had lost touch with what was happening. As for the first, recall how, for months and months, fundamentalists from the Northwest could go on piling up arms in the Lal Masjid right in Islamabad — and the military dictator with all his intelligence agencies should not have known. As for losing touch, recall how gravely Musharraf misjudged the way the public would react to the sacking of the chief justice.

Lessons for us

There has been a veritable industry in India urging concessions: when Pakistan or a ruler of Pakistan has appeared strong, when terrorism sponsored by it and him has been at its murderous height, concessions have been urged on the ground, “but how long can we live with a permanently hostile neighbour?” When he has been facing difficulties, the same concessions have been urged on the ground, “he is our best bet.” Such specious reasoning has almost prevailed when we have had, as we have now, a weak and delusional government, a government that does not have the grit to stay the course; when we have a government over which suggestions from abroad have sway of the kind they have today; when we have a government the higher reaches of which are as bereft of experience in national security affairs as in the government today. We must never sacrifice a national interest in the delusion that someone is the ‘best bet’ — he will soon be gone, and our interest would have been sacrificed in perpetuity. Nor should we ever sacrifice an interest in the delusion that doing so will assuage that ruler, country or ‘movement’.

The concession will only whet his appetite. To the ruler/country/movement, it will be proof that he can extract the next capitulation. Second, we should think for ourselves, and not be led by others, howsoever powerful they may be. One of the great strategic blunders of the US in regard to its ‘War on Terrorism’ has been to have believed, indeed to have proclaimed, that Musharraf is indispensable. The consequence has been predictable. Their having come to think of him as indispensable, Musharraf has done what suited him, not that war: look at the selective way in which he went after the terrorists. He first targeted only the Al Qaida in whom the Americans were interested; then, those who targeted him; then those who targeted the Pakistani state. The organisations that he, his army, the ISI had reared for breaking India, he left alone. The Americans had to shut their eyes. “You are putting all your eggs in one basket,” they were told. “But there aren’t that many baskets in Pakistan,” they said. Soon, they got their desserts too, and twice over. First, as was noted above, given the fungibility among such groups, the former set of terrorists had just to don the garb of the latter and continue to recruit, to rearm, to regroup. And then, Musharraf having come to be seen as merely their stooge, he couldn’t keep the system going — for them any more than for himself. In a word, powers, howsoever well endowed, can be dead wrong in their assessment even of their own interest. In any event, it is their own interest they shall be pursuing. Their own interest as perceived by a handful. Their own interest as perceived by a handful at that moment.

Today Saddam is good because he is a counter to Iran; tomorrow he is evil. Today the Taliban are mujahideen, freedom fighters, as they are necessary for throwing the Soviets out; tomorrow they are evil. Today the Kurds are good as a counter to Sunnis in Iraq; tomorrow they are evil as the fellows are dragging Turkey into the arena... This is not to blame the Americans or anyone else: through such twists and turns they are merely pursuing their interest. The lesson is for us: how very wrong, how very shortsighted it would be for us to outsource our thinking to others.

The even more important lesson is illustrated vividly by the relief we have had in Kashmir in the last few months days. As Balochistan, NWFP, and now FATA have flared up, Pakistan has had to withdraw its troops and other resources from its border with India to its western border. The killings and explosions in Kashmir have gone down. Just a coincidence?

Now notice two things. First, as Pakistan has had to move its troops away from the border with Kashmir, an orchestra has started in India demanding that we thin our troops in Kashmir: just another coincidence? Second, recall the ‘remedies’ that our secularists have been urging — ‘autonomy’ and the rest. “The Kashmiris feel alienated,” they have been declaiming. “That is the root-cause of terrorism... give them autonomy...” A formula-factory came into being: ‘Musharraf’s 7-regions’ formula...’

None of those ‘solutions’ has been put in place. Yet, the killings have gone down. Which is the medicine that has worked? The potion — ‘autonomy’ — we did not administer? Or the medicine that Pakistan has administered to itself? That it has got into trouble on its western borders? A lesson there...

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