Understanding Musharraf

Dawn, September 23, 2005
No thanks, General Sahib
Ayaz Amir

IF a picture is worth a thousand words, a single cannon shot as fired by Pakistan’s soldier-president on the subject of rape and Canadian visas is worth a thousand images.

The next time he waxes eloquent about enlightenment and moderation his own words as spoken to the Washington Post will come back to mock him: “You must understand the environment in Pakistan. This has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”

This was during his New York visit hailed by official trumpeters — no shortage of the kind in Pakistan — as a huge success. (How does this breed define success?) Worse was to follow. Realizing his blunder, Gen. Musharraf went on the defensive, saying he had said no such thing. Indeed that he would have been stupid to say it. (“True,” as Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times commented.)

The Washington Post, careful in such matters, checked its tapes and confirmed Gen Musharraf made the remarks and was accurately quoted.

It also quoted his remarks about Dr Shazia Khalid (the lady raped in Sui allegedly by an army officer): “It is the easiest way of doing it. Every second person now wants to come up and get all the [pause] because there is so much of finances. Dr. Shazia, I don’t know. But maybe she’s a case of money (too), that she wants to make money. She is again talking all against Pakistan, against whatever we’ve done. But I know what the realities are.” Phew. You’ve got to be really tacky to talk like this.

Gen Musharraf wants to project a ‘soft’ image of Pakistan. But he’s almost suggesting that Pakistan is the quintessential land of the purpose-built rape (Canada should be flattered). And when questioned, he gets angry, very angry, losing his cool before a gathering of Pakistanis in New York.

According to a Dawn report: “Provoked by a single question, the president allowed an event held to promote his government’s pro-woman policies to degenerate into a bout between himself and part of the invited audience... ‘I am a fighter, I will fight you. I do not give up and if you can shout, I can shout louder’...Responding to (a) woman’s charge that he had retracted his interview to The Washington Post, (he) said: ‘Lady, you are used to people who tell lies. I am not one of them.’ When a woman raised her voice to ask a question, the president said: ‘Are you a Benazir supporter?’” How does Benazir come into this?

“When the altercation began to get uglier,” Dawn added, “Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Jehangir Karamat, who was Gen Musharraf’s senior in the army, approached the podium and moved the president away by gently patting his shoulders.”

Not to worry, however. Condi Rice has just issued another certificate of excellence to the general, saying that while Pakistan is not a complete democracy, Musharraf is an extraordinary man. Indeed he is.

Tempting though it may be to say so, Gen Musharraf’s remarks are not typical of any standard Pakistani male mindset. Pakistani men, even those lacking a staff college education, don’t go around suggesting that Pakistani women invite rape for financial or travel benefits. The general’s remarks are his own and they reflect the mind of a person who (1) is answerable to no one for his thoughts and actions; and (2) speaks too much and too often.

When you are overly fond of giving interviews, when the notion of brevity being the soul of wit is almost alien to you and when you regularly display a penchant for unscripted dialogue, don’t be surprised if you sometimes get it wrong.

In fact, the unscripted or unrehearsed remark has been the bane of Pakistan under Gen Musharraf. At Agra for his famous breakfast meeting with Indian newspaper editors Musharraf went in unprepared and since the one subject all Pakistanis can talk about eloquently even without any preparation is Kashmir, it was about Kashmir that he spoke. There were many reasons why the Agra summit collapsed but one reason lay in that early morning eloquence.

If only that tough stance had lasted. It didn’t. During the course of a Reuters’ interview, Musharraf made the startling proposal that for the sake of flexibility Pakistan could go beyond the UN resolutions on Kashmir. The wages of one-man rule: the entire basis of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir ditched or diluted through this single off-the-cuff remark.

One man says ‘yes’ to Colin Powell on the telephone post-Sep 11 without any institutional discussion of what Pakistan’s negotiating position should be. When the Americans are preparing to invade Iraq they ask for Turkish cooperation, but the Turks, even though staunch American allies, put a stiff price on cooperation (eventually too steep for the Americans to accept).

Not so Pakistan which thanks to military rule can afford to leap first and look afterwards. Gen Musharraf’s uniform is his body-armour. But it’s also a great convenience for the Americans. As long as Afghanistan is on the boil and they want Pakistan to deliver more, they wouldn’t be too concerned about the finer points of democracy.

Remember the time when a Pakistan aviation team was in Delhi negotiating the resumption of air links between the two countries. The Pakistani side was looking for some assurance that India would not summarily sever air links as it had done in 1970 and again in 2001 after the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. While discussions were yet to be concluded, Musharraf, addressing a gathering of Indian businessmen in Islamabad, announced Pakistan’s readiness to resume air flights. Our aviation team wouldn’t have been amused.

This adhocism is evident elsewhere too in dealings with India. India shows no flexibility on concrete issues — Siachen, Baglihar, Sir Creek, etc. The Musharraf-Manmohan Singh meeting in New York is, for the most part, an exercise in futility. Yet, as a measure of the tight fix Pakistan has got itself into, it is Musharraf, rather than anyone from India, who is at pains to suggest that India is showing flexibility. What a curious reversal of roles.

And what evidence does Gen Musharraf cite in support of his contention that India is being flexible? That the Indian prime minister has accepted his invitation to visit Pakistan. Should one laugh or cry at this revelation? This was the fourth time in the past one year that the Indian prime minister was being ‘requested’ to visit Pakistan. Each time the invitation is graciously accepted but no dates are set. Pakistan has never lowered itself so much to please India, a string of unilateral concessions — from the Jan 4, 2004, joint statement to the misguided offer of bypassing the UN resolutions — for little in return.

But there’s a reason for all this. Irfan Siddiqui in Nawa-i Waqt puts it well: “From Agra to New York, a single story is being repeated. Five years ago Vajpayee got upset because we spoke of Kashmir as the ‘core issue’. Today Manmohan Singh is upset because Gen Musharraf mentioned Kashmir in his address to the UN General Assembly. The basic fact is that whether it is Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh, no Indian prime minister dare show any flexibility on Kashmir. In India democracy is supreme and about democracies the worst thing is that no matter however powerful an individual, whatever high office he holds, he cannot ignore state institutions or stray even a hair’s breadth from established national positions. This is only possible where, instead of institutions, there is one-man rule, where the opinions of an individual become national policy and where every kind of u-turn and somersault becomes a part of everyday existence.”

Gen Musharraf’s thoughts on rape, therefore, are not an aberration. Nor can they be attributed solely to the male chauvinism prevalent in our society. They reveal a problem of psychology: the helmsman in a dictatorship, [especially of the tin pot variety] beginning to lose balance. This should come as no surprise, six years of unchecked power being enough to turn anyone’s head.

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