Now the hard part- By Ikram Sehgal

The day before Pervez Musharraf resigned as President, considerable venom was directed at me by a PML (N) leader whom one considered a good friend and had lot of respect for. He challenged me, “Why don’t you go on TV and defend your friend now?” One is sorry that like his leader he turned out to be like the wind. As everyone knows, the wind cannot read! One can certainly not boast the closeness many others had with Musharraf, unlike those who were beneficiaries of Presidential largesse and have jumped ship, today when he is not in power one would be crass to claim he was not my friend. What is more of serious concern is the lack of tolerance for objectivity by a seasoned and educated politician who should know better, this does not bode well for the future of democracy.

The patience of both the PPP and the PML (N) will be tested, there is a far freer media than that they were used to in governance. With Musharraf no longer their bogey, it will ultimately turn on them and their known weaknesses. Restoration of the superior judiciary will be the first test; the media will hold them to this solemn pledge. Subsequently, will the NRO stay or was the rule of law rhetoric by CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry only lip-service? Musharraf should have at least given these to us as a parting gift, would this have compromised the “arrangement” for indemnity?

Someone who wanted him out of office encouraged Pervez Musharraf in launching “In the Line of Fire”. My profound reservations were expressed in print, it put the State, the institutions of the State and himself at risk of collateral damage. “Friends and Masters” undid Ayub Khan, Pervez Musharraf’s autobiography kicked off the endgame bringing him down less than 2 years later, March 9, 2007 was only a milestone that hastened the process.

My “New Year’s Resolution for 2008” stated, “The prime resolution for 2008 must be to hold free and fair elections. Musharraf said in March 2007, “elections will decide Pakistan’s destiny”. I said then, “One believes it is the way the elections are conducted that will decide the country’s destiny”. A year later that has not changed. The events of the past year have shaken my confidence in the beginning of 2007 that Musharraf still had both the vision and courage to fulfill this destiny. He has become isolated from those who could bring to his attention unpalatable facts, once upon a time he welcomed this. I have only just realised that I did not meet him once throughout 2007. Musharraf’s earlier successes are now increasingly being overcome by his failures. Every day that goes by puts us deeper into a mess”, unquote.

The article further said, “As someone who values his friendship one now acknowledges with a heavy heart that he must seriously re-evaluate his own position. With Ms Benazir’s tragic assassination the stakes have gone up exponentially for the country, for whatever reason this represents a watershed of sorts, a crossing over the fail-safe line between the Musharraf who used to find solutions and the Musharraf who has now become part of the problem”. It was sad to see him tacitly acknowledge this in his resignation speech on August 18. For the record, the Feb 2008 elections were as free and fair as can be in any third world country.

“Flirting with disaster” on Jan 3, 2008, went against the “facts” being fed to him by his intelligence agencies and the PML (Q), “The mathematics of seats in free and fair elections is quite clear, out of the 272 NA seats being contested, at the very least about 55 will be taken by the MQM, JUI (F), ANP, Balochistan Nationalist parties, Independents, etc.

That leaves 217 seats. Without any rigging whatsoever, PML (Q) will get at the very least 45 to 50 seats. Let us take the minimum of 45 seats, leaving a balance of 172 seats. At the maximum, the PPP will have 85 seats plus minus 5 seats i.e. a maximum of 90 seats and the PML (N) 80 seats plus minus 5 seats i.e. a maximum of 85 seats”, unquote. A couple of days later, Mohsin Hafeez, his Principal Secretary, conveyed that the President’s close friends heaped scorn on my estimates at a Presidential Brunch in the Sindh Club. Pervez Musharraf did not want me to become a laughing stock by making such “outlandish predictions”.

Subsequently on March 27, 2008, in “Democratic games”, I had written, “Friends of Musharraf’s are divided between those who want him to continue in office (or make a graceful exit) with dignity, and those who have a vested (and desperate) interest in his staying in power. Some will want him to do the right thing, those in proximity to him enjoying the gravy train will want him to do anything right or wrong, for their own selfish purpose, anything to cling onto power. Musharraf’s state is akin to the loneliness of the long-distance runner, only he knows how to pace himself, and when to come to a stop”, unquote. I followed this up by writing “Pervez Musharraf should do so on his own terms while he still has plenty of residual goodwill left. While it is not easy to let go of the trappings of power, self-respect requires that he not be humiliated further. He must not allow his family, on outstanding behaviour throughout his incumbency, to be subjected to this. Pervez Musharraf owes this to his legacy, to the uniform he has worn with pride, and to the nation”, unquote.

Musharraf finally did have to let go, the Army gently but firmly nudged him to do the right thing for himself, the Army and the country, and not necessarily in that order. He managed it to some extent on his own terms. The uniformed ones will certainly not allow anyone to make a public spectacle out of him. If their former Chief is put in the dock, the Army is put on the dock.

To tar and feather the uniform may be the real intention of those who want the Army as a truncated force engaged in internal policing duties in a de-nuclearised Pakistan. The send-off from the Presidency was complete with a guard of honour from all three Services as befits their Supreme Commander, a strong but subtle message. With Musharraf no longer a “problem”, the Coalition has no further excuses in finding solutions for the many crisis confronting Pakistan.

Quoting “The singer not the song”, as far back as October 11, 2007, “For me personally Musharraf still matters, the song he is now singing does not, it is out of the sync with the ideals he once professed”. Those in power seldom want to leave power, Musharraf was no different. In the end he at least exercised good sense and judgment in not dragging the country through another debilitating crisis. Discretion being the better part of valour, the most difficult military operation is not “attack” but “withdrawal”. For whatever it may be worth, Musharraf withdrew gracefully. Whatever his detractors may claim and/or would have hoped otherwise, it was a dignified exit.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:

Source: The News, 21/8/2008

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