Into the fire


“The nation will be the land of the free only when it is the land of the brave.”

Thrice did the army nearly intervene during the last government and thrice did it stop at the cusp, like thrice did Caesar refuse the crown knowing it was not laurels but made of poisonous thorns. It is in the nature of man to inter the good with the bones while the bad, embroidered with lies and exaggeration lives on. This is no time for intervention. None is.

Generals are not trained to run countries. They have no generic solutions to our myriad problems so they only tinker with the system and create a feel good factor for a time. Mistaking wish lists for ideology they confuse strategy for tactics. They don’t realise that the political system is the problem. Without ideology they cannot properly address it. They don’t know how to legitimise any new system so they follow the standard operating procedure: accountability inevitably done badly and pointless referenda. When I told President Musharraf that a presidential system cast in our historical milieu in which parliament and executive were separate and independent of each other would be better for us, his answer was, “I agree with you 200 percent, but how to do it?” That is the problem. You have to let the new system evolve naturally.

Army intervention not only signifies failure of politics but also of society for electing and tolerating inept and corrupt leaders. Worse, those heading governments wouldn’t get the chance to expose themselves and our decrepit, degenerate, alien political system, a bad clone of Westminster, would get yet another lease of life instead of hurtling towards its destiny through the natural evolutionary process. However, when a coup becomes inevitable that too is part of political evolution for it almost always is the conduct and performance of politicians that makes the ground fertile for it.

Best to let politics take whatever course it will so that we get this system out of our systems and learn that democracy is not equal to elections, improvement of the human condition bottom up is. Let there be elections and let the new government govern – or misgovern more likely. If it does well none would be happier than you and I. But if it falls flat on its face and Pakistan starts going further down the drain, then intervention could become inevitable and you, America or I can do nothing to stop it. Only Allah can. The army doesn’t want to go down in history as an institution that upheld the constitution while the country perished. The clock is ticking, the “petty pace of time” continues apace.

Our politicians should realise this lest they pave the way yet again for army intervention after some fashion. There are some things that man wants and there are some things that nature demands. When it comes to survival nature takes over and charts its own course, man and his social and political constructs and wishful thinking be damned.

There was a cartoon in this newspaper last Friday showing six of our top political leaders pulling at Pakistan’s flag from different ends, tearing it apart to take their piece. It happened in 1971 when Bhutto, Mujib and Yahya tore Pakistan asunder while all West Pakistani leaders bar Asghar Khan stood by mutely or applauded. Our leaders should realise that their common and collective task is not to play multi-dimensional tug-of-war with the national flag and shred it but to hoist it to its zenith. The army is tasked to save the flag from being torn apart before the nadir. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen and these become our last elections, for it is neither good for the country’s natural evolution nor for the army.

While consensus is part of the essence of democracy, our predators that pass for politicians cannot even agree on a caretaker prime minister and Punjab chief minister because they are driven by self-interest, not national interest. The prime minister and leader of the opposition couldn’t agree on one, the parliamentary committee failed and now the matter is with the Election Commission whose decision will be final – so too in Punjab. How sad! Can you believe that the gentleman with Jeffersonian pretentions who crafted this convoluted process was in the run for this meaningless job, though it would have enhanced his profile no end – ‘former prime minister’ what? He is actually proud of gifting us the last three amendments to the constitution that have built gridlock into the system. Great going.

It doesn’t occur to anyone that in a real democracy there is no concept of caretakers. Outgoing governments hold elections under their watch and woe betides them if they fumble or rig. But where no one trusts anyone, and not without reason, they need ‘neutral’ caretakers. Is it possible to find ‘neutrality’ given human nature? What is needed is intellectual honesty, a good upbringing and value system, a real education, a good track record and strong faith. Only a well-programmed robot can possibly be neutral. Anyone who is someone has an opinion and track record. Opinions and performance attract controversy. A person without controversy is a person without opinion or achievement.

There is the view that President Zardari has given Nawaz Sharif yet another haircut because he will now ‘graciously’ agree to Sharifs’ nominee as caretaker prime minister (to ‘save democracy’ of course) provided that the Punjab chief minister is his nominee, for Punjab is, as Bhutto said, “the bastion of power”. Win Punjab and you win Pakistan. But hang on: there’s a flaw here. The Sharifs were clever enough to dissolve the Punjab assembly after the National Assembly, so the date of selection of caretaker prime minister comes before the selection of Punjab chief minister. What if Sharif gets his prime minister and later, if he can, renege on agreeing to Zardari’s chief minister, pleading that such promises are not written in the Quran as Zardari did to Sharif when he gave him his first haircut? It’s a filthy situation.

Into this fire has jumped General Pervez Musharraf of his own volition, putting life and liberty on the line. ‘Into the Fire’ could be the title of his next book. Knowing my close friendship with Musharraf and that I helped write his autobiography ‘In the Line of Fire’, people inevitably ask me why would Musharraf willingly return to face trials, tribulation and possible assassination? I won’t say that Musharraf knows something I don’t for that’s cute fudging.

To understand why, read the chapter ‘The Potter’s Wheel’ in Musharraf’s book to understand the mindset of a soldier. Every military academy is like a potter’s wheel, its bosses the potters or milliners. A young cadet is their clay that they make moist and malleable, place on the wheel, spin it ferociously, mould him and then throw him in a red-hot furnace. When the potter’s work is done out of the furnace emerges a soldier with a different mindset and worldview. He believes he is born to die for his country for it is his duty to save it from enemies foreign and native. His ultimate reason for existence is to lay down his life and become a martyr and victor – shaheed and ghazi – at the same time. On top of the mind of a soldier Musharraf has the mind of a commando. The word defeat is not in his lexicon. Musharraf had planned to remain President till 2013 and then leave a victor. I believe he would have. Instead, he was forced to resign earlier, a defeat for him. He has to return and convert defeat into victory even at the cost of his life. He is not conditioned to sit abroad and watch his country slide into disaster. He is trained to try and save it. It is an imperative that a civilian cannot understand. What seems impetuosity in a soldier-commando is instinct, ‘not listening’ means not agreeing with the civilian worldview in which self-survival is central. Musharraf believes in destiny; he is ready to embrace it willingly. So for Musharraf to jump back into the fire is but natural. Got it?

Musharraf has many sterling qualities that our politicians lack. He doesn’t speak with a forked tongue; in fact his outspoken truthfulness has often got him into trouble. I know, for I had to argue to remove a lot from his book. He is honest and very patriotic. His wife and children never threw their weight around and take advantage of his position. His architect daughter Ayla was known to take taxis when he was president while the heir apparent progeny of our politicians make a nuisance of themselves with motorcades as long as their father’s. I can go on, but why labour the point?

A man’s has to do what he has to do. Musharraf is a man and is doing it. Patriotism is the driver: Benazir Bhutto was no soldier but she was one hell of a fighter. She returned to Pakistan willingly and embraced martyrdom. I hope and pray that Musharraf does not, but there are many traitors after the blood of this patriot. What I fear most is another high-profile assassination as an excuse to postpone elections. Not just Musharraf but the Sharifs, Zardari, Imran Khan and the chief justice are in the line of fire. Hopefully there’s no such tragedy again, but they should all watch it. “The nation will be the land of the free only when it is the land of the brave.”

The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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