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Thursday, July 19, 2018

National Interest: General Musharraf (Deluded)

He was the dictator in constant denial,now the truth's catching up

Written by Shekhar Gupta | Published: April 20, 2013 2:37:03 am

He was the dictator in constant denial,now the truth’s catching up

To be fair to Musharraf,he had given me my I-told-you-so moment much earlier than his arrest this week. That was when he was exiled in 2008. A few months after he had overthrown an elected government enjoying a two-thirds majority and jailed its popular prime minister,Nawaz Sharif,I had written (‘Generally speaking’,National Interest,IE,July 15,2000, XRx5q) that there were only four ways a dictator could end up in Pakistan: assassinated or jailed by successors or exiled or disgraced,usually after waging a war on India and losing. Ayub,Bhutto,Zia and Yahya Khan had each met one of these fates. This left Musharraf with no room for complacence. He had taken over power at the very young age of 55,and since the option of retiring at 60 and going home in peace to play golf was no longer available to him,he needed to plan his future seriously. The only way he could hope to escape the fate of all of Pakistan’s earlier dictators was to become a legitimate politician quickly,allow real elections against real opponents (not by exiling Benazir,Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain of MQM,as he did) and win or lose. Instead,he only proved us right,first by being exiled in disgrace,and then with his equally unceremonious (makes you wonder sometimes if that word was invented to describe the end of dictators) arrest. We cannot and will not wish him any fate worse than this now. We seek,and need,no further vindication.

In predicting this inevitable future for Musharraf,the one thing I was guilty of was repetitiveness. Between July 2000 and early 2001,I repeated the point in several ‘National Interest’ articles (‘Peace needs daring’,December 9,2000,,‘Mindreading Musharraf’,December 16,2000,,‘A guide to the Pak army’,December 23,2000, and it wasn’t just because my guru in journalism and much else,Arun Shourie,had taught us a somewhat unconventional lesson — at least not something they’d teach you in journalism schools — that you should never underestimate the power of repetition. Because people have short memories and,more importantly,thick heads and thicker skins.

I REALISED soon enough how right Arun Shourie had been,as usual. That repeated warning had got to Musharraf. After one of his customary annual lunches for senior media leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos,Musharraf,whom I had never met or interviewed one-on-one,gestured to me to hang on while we were all trooping out. He asked me if I was indeed so-and-so. And when I pleaded guilty as charged,he told me how he and his colleagues used to think I was well informed on Pakistani politics,how they used to read my coverage of their country even in their senior officers’ academies and staff college,but how hopelessly I had now lost touch and was making silly statements.

“The stupidest of all,” he said,“is that rubbish you keep repeating about one of the four ways a Pakistani dictator always goes and that I will also go like that.”

I said,“General,sir,if all other dictators have gone this way,why should there be an exception now? That is my limited point.”

“That is the blunder you make,a completely wrong presumption. You presume stupidly that I am a dictator. Pakistan has never seen more democracy than now. Ask all your friends in the Pakistani media whom I know well,go ask them,” he continued admonishing me.

Much as I would have liked to say something like,let’s put all this to the test of time,I tried to calm things down by saying something facetious like,oh,I was wiser in the past maybe because I had a very wise editor (pointing at Aroon Purie who was present there). But Musharraf wasn’t one to forgive,or forget.

He was the main speaker at India Today’s conclave in March 2004. I reminded him,with no intention or hint of mischief,that 72 democracies around the world (including India) were going for elections in that year. And so when was Pakistan going to have its own? This was enough to get him into a rage. What made me think Pakistan had no democracy? Each country had the right to choose its own system. And,he thundered,in any case,even my asking that question amounted to interfering in his country’s internal affairs. (Read the full exchange at

What do both sets of exchanges tell you? That Musharraf is a deeply,terminally delusional man who passionately believed his own mythologies: that by overthrowing,jailing and exiling a prime minister enjoying a two-thirds majority,he had only restored real democracy in Pakistan,and that his people loved him as a liberal democrat as they had loved no other but Jinnah. Only a buccaneering fool like that could believe that stealthily taking a 10-km strip of territory in Kargil would bring India to its knees,or spend a night with some of his invading troops in the same zone. Or,now,continue believing that his people are missing him so desperately that millions would line the streets to welcome him back,and that would guarantee his security against the judiciary he had jerked around so rudely. His delusions have finally caught up with him. As for his maturity,ask Vajpayee,Advani,Jaswant Singh,people who dealt with him in Agra. In one-on-one negotiations,he would pull out of his pocket the folded text of the joint declaration being negotiated,with changes made in long hand,and ask Vajpayee to initial them with him jointly. And when Vajpayee would remind him that he had to clear things with his cabinet colleagues,he would say something like,but you are the prime minister and I am the president,why can’t we just decide? That was his understanding of how democracies function. Vajpayee’s own description of Musharraf’s approach was “wahiyaat,ekdum bachpana” (silly,utterly childish). Musharraf,of course,returned the compliment by telling his aides Vajpayee took so long processing the answer to any question he raised,that his processor must be a 286,not Pentium. It is a different matter that both the NDA,and later the UPA,decided to take a pragmatic view of Musharraf,particularly in the post-9/11 world,and made some useful progress in negotiations. Musharraf,meanwhile,continued losing political capital. And simply because he continued to believe that no country,particularly Pakistan,needed or deserved any more democracy than he had already brought in.

HE is now history,or maybe a silly and sad chapter in it,or maybe even a footnote. Worse,in some ways,than the mouse that roared,only because he was so stupid (and I am not trying to get even) as to confuse usurped dictatorial power with popularity,the usual darbari sycophancy for adulation,and the post-9/11 caressing of his tail by the Americans as a certificate of global statesmanship. That is why he made the mistake of returning to Pakistan and,unwittingly,gave his countrymen the opportunity to ask some really serious questions.

They must prosecute him,and for much more than subverting their judiciary. Here is a likely chargesheet: One,that he carried out the Kargil operation behind the back of his constitutionally established government,lost tactically and strategically as his army had to retreat and the global community sanctified the line of control. Two,that he overthrew a legitimate,elected government with a vast majority and then subverted all institutions,not just the judiciary. And three,that through his recklessness,he brought the subcontinent,at least twice (Kargil and the post-Parliament attack),close to an all-out war.

The week’s favourite internet/ SMS joke is that he need not worry. Justice Markandey Katju will soon appeal,seeking mercy for him. Chances are,even the good judge may not forgive him: at least for his stupidities,delusions and lack of intellect,if not for his sins of commission.

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