WASHINGTON DC, July 7, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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How A Dictator Reduced Pakistan To His Will

By Tarique Niazi

WISCONSIN, July 7: In a democratic Pakistan, General Musharraf has only one place to go to: Prison. Since his coup on October 12, 1999, his every move has been aimed at evading that fate.

The very day he gunned his way to power, he was quaking in his boots at the thought of having been carted off in cuffs. All day, on October 12, his fellow Bonapartes in the General Headquarters (GHQ) kept pleading with him to have him get down to Islamabad right away. Instead, he sat cowering in Karachi, awaiting an “all clear.” So much so that he had his first speech recorded in the port city for fear of life in Islamabad.

Like Gen. Musharraf, all dictators are cowards. His predecessor Gen. Zia-ul-Haq set up his command post in the GHQ to topple the Government of the day. His biggest headache was to find someone who would “safely” tie down the “wolf,” a reference to Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. His top comrade, Gen. Faiz Ali Chishti, took upon himself to “do the job.”

When he stepped out of the “war room” to hunt down Prime Minister Bhutto, Gen. Zia called out after him: “Murshud KIthey Merva Na Dayeen” (Lest you saint have us all killed). Prime Minister Bhutto was asleep with his arms folded on his chest, but his wakeful generals were trembling at “what if scenarios.” So was Gen. Musharraf, who survived to this day by having been missing in action (MIA), even on the day a coup was being staged in his behalf.

Over the past nearly six years now, he has been living from day to day. He has never been sure of tomorrow. This abiding uncertainty is anchored in his distrust of everyone around him. Which is why he has chosen to be his own bodyguard, i.e., staying in military fatigues.

He knows that the day he quits the army command, he will be history. The very constituency of corps commanders that he flamboyantly claims stands solidly behind his power-grab does not keep his faith. Every corps commander is a “suspect conspirator” until the day he doffs his uniform.

On the lonely planet that Gen. Musharraf has now come to inhabit, there is only one person that he trusts: himself. This is true of every dictator. Gen. Zia-ul-Haq never went to sleep without calling each of his corps commanders and making sure that they are tucked away in homes, especially after midnight. According to his Chief of Staff, Gen. KM Arif, he would stick to this routine even on his overseas trips. It was not enough for Gen. Zia to find his commanders, after midnight, in the safe confines of their bedrooms. He could still be rattled if, in the wee hours, a general would answer his call at the first ring. He once called a general well past midnight. The general answered his phone at the first ring. Startled, Gen. Zia greeted him with a nervous quiz: “Aap Abhi Tak Jaag Rahey Hein.” “Saab, Hum Gunah-garoon Ko Neend Kub Aatee Hey,” defensively retorted the general.

Gen. Musharraf is no different. Unlike Gen. Zia, he is favorite of the few among “men and men” in uniform. And even those few are ready to stab him should he turn his back. If anyone got lucky with his ambitions, he would find the “free world” with its arms and heart wide open to take him into an ever tighter embrace. This is because the international community believes that no dictator in Pakistan can survive without its blessing.

So any soldier who is adventurer enough to make it to the top is welcome into the “free world.” This saddest of all facts further places Gen. Musharraf on an even shakier ground. To hedge his bets, he already has named a co-ethnic as his Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS). Yet even the co-ethnic is not trusted. He has been assigned to oversee the work of “boy scouts” in the army. He is kept light years apart from the real work of the command.

A case in point is the MS (military secretary) branch, which is believed to be the nerve center of the GHQ. Nothing moves there without a nod from the COAS, i.e., Gen. Musharraf. As a matter of fact, VCOASs are set up as straw men to show who actually wields power. To understand how haplessly hopeless their job is, look no further than Gen. Zia’s model. One of his Vice Chief of Staffs, Gen. Sawar Khan, a four-star general, sent out a request for purchasing a computer, only to be turned down by his subordinates! Such exercises in humiliation are well-calibrated to keep the stay within his shoes.

In addition to a co-ethnic VCOAS, Gen. Musharraf has appointed his cousin as corps commander of Lahore, a city that is credited with making and unmaking governments. His cousin takes the court of politicians, publicly advises on running the affairs of the Quaid-i-Azam Muslim League, and watches over the Chief Minister and Governor of Punjab.

Where cousins are in short supply, Gen. Musharraf has substituted them with layers after layers of authority. All provincial governments are overseen by his self-appointed governors. They in turn are overseen by respective corps commanders, who in turn are watched by the ISI (Inter-services Intelligence) and MI (Military Intelligence), and the latter are pitted against one another.

This Byzantine way of governing does not make things easy for the COAS either. As a result, the balance of power has now shifted in favor of intelligence agencies. It is no wonder that every attempt on Gen. Musharraf’s life was traced back to one or more than one of such agencies. The hand that shields him is more tempted do him in also.

One of the most dangerous outcomes of this “hound-after-hound approach” is mutual distrust that has risen to unmanageable extremes since his coup. After surviving a succession of assassination bids, Gen. Musharraf has now come to accept that no one in the military will pass up an opportunity to bump him off.

This sense has further deepened by the opposition’s demand for his head under Article 6 of the Constitution. He thinks he may survive intra-military scheming with counter-scheming of his own; but he cannot survive the opposition’s accountability should he be overthrown. His predecessor dictators – right from Sikandar Mirza down to Gen. Zia – however could not survive even internal conspiracies to have a day in court.

Like all dictators, Gen. Musharraf, too, thinks that his end will be different from his predecessors. With this belief, he has hitched his star to his co-ethnic Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to escape the opposition’s demand for justice. He believes the MQM can and will “blackmail” any government in Islamabad into leaving him alone. History speaks to the contrary, somehow.

What is, however, evident is that his wayward ways of ethnicizing, personalizing, and politicizing the military already are proving divisive. As a result, the enlisted base of the military stands opposed to the officer corps; the officer corps to the general officers, and the general officers to the corps commanders.

It is this split that has different inspiration for the enlisted men and members of the officer corps who have mounted several attempts on his life; and for the general officers and especially the corps commanders who he claims are firmly lined up behind him.

A senior military officer told The Nation, a Lahore-based centrist broadsheet, that colonels, and not generals, would be the future makers of coups in Pakistan. It comes, then, as no surprise that opposition leaders were barraged with letters from dissenting middle-ranking officers who urged them to try Gen. Musharraf under Article 6 of the Constitution. When the opposition leader Javed Hashmi articulated their concerns, Gen. Musharraf had him sentenced to 23 years in prison. A man who divides the military rules; one who questions his divisive ways gets 23 years!

The democratic opposition has a chance to undo such paradoxes once and for all. In doing so, it will stem the tide of downward spiral of the military. Opposition can take the first step toward this goal by sticking to its demand for trying Gen. Musharraf for sedition, which is punishable with death, under Article 6 of the constitution.

Talks of “deals” and “dialogues” with a felon do not inspire faith in democracy. It is, however, heartening for all democratic forces in Pakistan that both Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had nixed such options.

Leaders of democracy must understand that no general will second guess his decision to force his way into Islamabad, unless Gen. Musharraf is brought to justice and made into a “price tag” for future seditions. Leaders of democracy must live up to the immortal pledge of the ultimate democrat, late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan: “Gen. Musharraf will be the last dictator Pakistan ever had; and he will be the first one Pakistan ever tried.”

The Discussion Forum on this article has been locked at the request of the writer

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