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He’s not playing golf

Like poltergeist former General-President Pervez Musharraf won’t go away.

Written by Ejaz Haider |
September 23, 2009 1:49:57 am

Like poltergeist former General-President Pervez Musharraf won’t go away.

Nawaz Sharif thinks the only way to effect a closure is to hang,draw and quarter Musharraf. Some of his party leaders want to extend the courtesy to other former dictators also. Since,except Musharraf,all are dead,the PMLN wants to do a Cromwell on them. That’s the problem with selective reading of history,in this case of Great Britain’s and Cromwell’s place in it.

But while Sharif and his cohorts need to push this line for political reasons,finding it deliciously propitious that it also syncs with the slogan for constitutionalism,Musharraf himself is equally to blame for not letting the waters go still.

He has continued to speak,Oracle-like,on Pakistan and its various problems; he threatens to return and play a political role and,to that end,is actively trying to put the Q-League Humpty together.

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The PPP government,meanwhile,is trying its best for a lockdown on the whole affair and is seeing its political fortunes take a dip as Sharif’s go up. So,where do matters stand and what about the army?

The army has signalled that it would stay neutral if Musharraf returned and was tried. There’s dilemma here for it. Musharraf has become a steel-ball around the institution’s ankle. When he was in power,the army went along with him even as dissent over his policies grew. His November 3,2007 decision was very unpopular and the top brass knew,for the most part,that it was the clichéd beginning of the end. Yet,they supported him for institutional imperatives,perceived or real is another debate.

So,the issue is not whether Musharraf,as an individual,can be allowed to go under but how would accepting a judicial process against him and his possible indictment impact the standing and influence of the army as an institution. Protecting Musharraf goes beyond the problem of one man’s fate; it becomes a matter of defending institutional turf here and now,and by extension,in the future.

On the other hand,Musharraf’s tenure has left the army with limited choices. The fact that the army had to agree to his unceremonious ouster showed it realised that it could not let him continue in office in the face of overwhelming anti-Musharraf and,worse,anti-army public opinion. The anti-Musharraf feeling still obtains even as the political system remains tenuous and the army’s stock has gone up.

But precisely because the army’s reputation is on the climb that it is unwilling to be drawn into the political fray because of Musharraf. He has now become a liability for the institution.

But neither could it afford Musharraf’s indictment; hence the backchannel efforts and guarantees which induced Musharraf to bow out. The army can’t leave him for institutional reasons; neither can it go beyond a point in saving him for the same institutional reasons.

The army has drawn its lessons from the Musharraf years and now seems more concerned about the exit strategy than the entry point. For once it is bringing Clausewitz to bear on politics and realises that when it comes to the fog and the drag,politics may offer more of the two than even war. This is not a bad development.

For anyone who puts more premium on strategy than tactics,more on the indirect than the direct approach,the issue of intervention,by that very fact,must be decided less by whether the army can make a coup happen (entry) and more by what it can achieve by making one. That’s the point where the question of exit comes in: when is the right time to get out. Even Huntington,in his classic Political Order in Changing Societies could not provide a satisfactory answer.

The army wants Musharraf to stay away and let the ruckus die down. The government has also involved Saudi Arabia which was one of the guarantors against any trial of Musharraf. The army feels that his staying away would give it the time to work out things with those political elements that are baying for his blood. The army also knows that if he were to return and be tried,it won’t be able to do much to save him from the judicial process.

Musharraf,however,is telling most visitors that he wants to,and will,return. He is very serious,going by his statements,about playing a political role. The army’s contention that it will stay neutral is a signal to its former boss that if he were to insist on such a decision before the time is opportune,he will be on his own.

Musharraf’s successes and failures spring from the same source,his audacity. General

Zia-ul-Haq was an armoured corps officer but always acted as a gunner and relied on indirect fire and the strategy of the indirect approach. Musharraf was a gunner but has always preferred direct fire. He would have been more successful if he could determine when to be audacious and when to hunker down and let the storm pass.

The writer is Op-Ed Editor,‘Daily Times’,Lahore. The views expressed are his own

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