Old army chief Pervez Musharraf has unleashed himself again on Pakistan, from London, where, according to a TV talk show he was on, he is living in a flat bought for him by “my brother”, the late Saudi King Abdullah, apparently missing the irony of him facing a trial for treason in Pakistan. He said he was well-off because of the money he got addressing audiences in America — “$1,50,000 per lecture”. He was lapped up by the media looking for excitement, which he provided, revealing he loved Aishwarya Rai for her “beautiful eyes”, and would like to be president of Pakistan if he returned, and a party supportive of his genius came to power.
Musharraf is clearing the decks for his triumphant return to Pakistan by re-establishing his anti-India credentials. He did this on TV by praising the boss of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Hafiz Saeed, currently kept under wraps by Pakistan because of his global reputation as a terrorist. He said Saeed was a “strategic asset” because he “never killed inside Pakistan” but reserved his terrorism for India-administered Kashmir. He was less enthusiastic about Jaish-e-Muhammad and its leader, Masood Azhar, because Azhar nearly killed him in 2003, when Musharraf called off the jihad against India after negotiating peace with the Vajpayee government.
For all his bravado, Musharraf knew he couldn’t do much about the proxy warriors attacking India: In fact, he was scared of his own “strategic assets”. Pakistan’s ex-foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan, in his 2011 book Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism, and Resistance to Modernity, reports, “In 2000, I had occasion to raise the issue of support to jihadi groups with General Pervez Musharraf, then chief executive… I argued that Musharraf could not realise his economic agenda for development without giving up support for jihadist groups who were spawning an environment hostile to foreign investment and economic growth. Musharraf disagreed and placed the blame for economic ills on corruption. When I persisted, he literally closed the argument with the remark that what I was suggesting could bring an end to his government”.
Former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, seemed to bear this out in his latest article in the Washington Post (March 10): “By 2007, [President] Bush had realised that Musharraf either ‘would not or could not’ fulfill his promises in fighting terrorism”.
Reuters correspondent Myra Macdonald in her detailed 2016 book Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War identified Musharraf as reckless: “After the war, he joined the Special Services Group (SSG), Pakistan’s elite commandos, where he said — with a characteristic lack of self-awareness — that he was seen by his seniors as ‘an exceptional leader, but also as a bluntly outspoken, ill-disciplined officer’.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must have got out of bed on the wrong side when he appointed Musharraf army chief in 1998, ignoring the advice from the ISI: “Not suitable to become army chief since he was quick in taking action, could be easily roused; takes action without deep thought”. As noted by Macdonald, Musharraf was to deal with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the most statesman-like of Indian prime ministers, facing a “defeated general” who had overthrown an elected government that had signed the Lahore Peace Agreement of 1999 with him.
Vajpayee had gone to the Independence monument in Lahore and “accepted the existence of Pakistan”. There was wisdom in talking peace to a defeated Musharraf after Vajpayee tested the nuclear bomb and normalised relations with the US. President Clinton, who despised Musharraf’s Kargil adventure, couldn’t have missed the contrast between Vajpayee and Musharraf.
Today, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is following the path taken by Vajpayee after the Kargil victory. He was ousted by Musharraf, saying Sharif knew the army was going to attack in Kargil. His photograph, standing behind bars, awaiting death after Musharraf’s appeal against the prison sentence he received, is often shown on TV, reminding him of what he faced trying to normalise ties with India. He didn’t forget Vajpayee’s gesture and was ready to attend the investiture ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, while Pakistan resounded with the slogan, “Modi ka jo yaar hai, ghaddar hai!”
Musharraf faces trial in Pakistan under Article 6 of the Constitution for “abrogating the Constitution”. His presidency ended in 2008, after his order to remove the chief justice of the supreme court rebounded on him. Lawyers took to the streets, forcing him out. Five years of a Pakistan People’s Party government followed, the latter not interested in punishing him; in 2013, Nawaz Sharif returned to power and pursued the treason case, till the deep state facilitated Musharraf’s exit from Pakistan for “health reasons”. It must be the memory of Vajpayee that makes Sharif stick to his soft line on India, attending the festival of Holi in Karachi with the Hindu community, even as Modi gets ready to persecute the Muslims of UP under a tough chief minister.