Musharraf Book: An Indian Perspective

Musharraf: from facts to fantasy
By Praful Bidwai
The News: September 30, 2006

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi

If President Pervez Musharraf wanted to make waves globally through his memoir, he has succeeded spectacularly. An exceptionable combination of circumstances favoured him: a press conference with President Bush, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's denial of his claim that the United States threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" if it didn't join the war on terrorism after 9/11; Musharraf's prime-time appearance on a channel that's part of the conglomerate that owns his publishing company; and his Council on Foreign Relations speech.

Yet, even Musharraf's detractors must admit, these were mere 'force multipliers'. The original force that drove the tsunami of publicity for the book came from its controversial content. The book's release was one of the greatest state-financed publicity exercises undertaken anywhere. It will be debated for a long time. It has certainly been hotly debated in India, where some extracts were first published a week ago.

So how does the book appear from across the border to someone committed to democracy, peace and India-Pakistan reconciliation? It's best understood through four themes or rubrics: bragging, mis-assessment, truth-telling, and fantasy.

First, the staggeringly boastful self-promotion. Musharraf clearly sees himself as an infallible leader of extraordinary talent. He presents himself as a victim of circumstances, who nevertheless unfailingly makes the right decisions that will eventually rescue Pakistan from chaos and bring it glory, like in Kargil.

For Musharraf, his Kargil operations "were a landmark in the history of the Pakistani Army" -- not least because only 5,000 Pakistani troops joined combat "in support of the freedom-fighter groups" and compelled India "to employ more than four divisions, with the bulk of the … artillery coming from strike formations" located elsewhere. The Pakistani performance will be "written in golden letters".

Musharraf presents Kargil as a 'defensive manoeuvre' to pre-empt India's 'offensive operations' along the Line of Control -- "conducted flawlessly, a technical marvel of military professionalism…" He claims that "the Indians, by their own admission, suffered over 600 killed and over 1,500 wounded." But "our information suggests" that the numbers are at least twice as high.

The Indian government says Kargil was carefully planned. Pakistani troops crossed the LoC, but sustained big losses: "documents like identity cards, pay books and other identification papers revealed that as many as seven Northern Light Infantry battalions (more than 7,000 troops) were involved. They were supported by auxiliary troops" too. The Indian army "recovered 249 bodies, of which only five were accepted by Pakistan, and the total Pakistani casualties of 725 killed included 45 officers and 68 Special Service Group personnel." The army says it deployed only two mountain divisions and two independent brigade-strength troops to dislodge Pakistani forces from Kargil.

We may never know the truth given the 'fog' of India-Pakistan's prolonged hot-cold war. But Musharraf's account of Kargil isn't the truth. Kargil wasn't a 'victory' by any yardstick. Pakistan was forced to withdraw from the territories it captured.

Musharraf is equally boastful when he explains why he changed his stance on terrorism, the Taliban and Al Qaeda after 9/11: "Armitage's undiplomatic language had nothing to do with my decision." He changed his mind not because he believed in the 'war on terror', but because it was in the 'national interest' and Pakistan's 'self-preservation'. He reached that conclusion after he "war-gamed the US as an adversary." Whatever the merits of this logic, it bears testimony to enormous hubris: you don't war-game America unless you've a gigantic ego.

That hubris is evident in Musharraf's account of the December 2003 attempt on his life: "I immediately realised I was staring terrorism in the face…[as]… the target. But unlike most leaders, I am also a soldier, chief of army staff and supreme commander. I am cut out to be in the midst of battle -- trained, prepared and equipped. Fate and the confluence of events have seen to it that Pakistan and I are in the thick of the fight against terrorism. My training has made me constantly ready" for this.

A second theme of Musharraf's book is mis-assessment of political and strategic realities. An astounding example is the claim that India probably stole uranium enrichment technology from A Q Khan's Dubai-centred global network.

The claim is based on the following: In 1994-95, Khan ordered the manufacture of 200 P-1 centrifuges that had been "discarded by Pakistan in the mid-80s". These were dispatched to Dubai for "onward distribution". "The Dubai-based network had employed several Indians, some of whom have since vanished." So, "there is strong probability that the Indian uranium enrichment programme may also have its roots in the network and could be a copy of the Pakistani centrifuge design."

'Vanishing Indians' don't quite make the claim convincing. More important, India's uranium enrichment efforts and centrifuge designs go back to the early 1980s. It's another matter that that programme hasn't been hugely successful. It would have been had India used Pakistani centrifuge designs, themselves stolen from Europe.

Another example of mis-assessment is Musharraf's view that Nawaz Sharif wantonly agreed to a Kargil ceasefire in July 1999 in Washington. Pakistan held the military advantage. So Clinton could have been persuaded to side with Pakistan. In fact, India had by then taken Tololing and Tiger Hill. Pakistan was widely seen as 'irresponsible' -- the aggressor who crossed the LoC. Kargil brought Pakistan ignominy and highlighted the nuclear danger in the subcontinent.

A third feature of the book is blunt truth-telling. Musharraf admits, contrary to all official protestations, that Pakistan did deploy regular troops in Kargil, and that the CIA paid Islamabad 'millions' for handing over 369 al-Qaeda suspects after 9/11 -- a claim now causing much embarrassment. Musharraf's tone is deadpan while describing his own record of indiscipline as a soldier: "it was shocking indeed. Entries in red ink were overflowing the total allocated space" on his service documents.

Equally frank is his account of the Agra summit. It failed because, as he told Vajpayee, "there seemed to be someone above the two of us who had the power to overrule us" [Advani].

However, the book's fourth theme is its fantasising -- about how Pakistan is destined to fight, and never to condone terrorism, and how the most ruthless and fanatical killers of ordinary civilians in Kashmir are 'freedom-fighters'. Musharraf also deludes himself that he is more authentically 'democratic' than elected civilian leaders -- a favourite fantasy of many despots.

However, the most worrisome fantasy is Musharraf's view, stated most 'emphatically', that "whatever movement has taken place so far in the direction of finding a solution to Kashmir is owed considerably to the Kargil conflict". This takes one's breath away. It's only after India and Pakistan put Kargil's bitter legacy away, and after the terrible 10 month-long eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation of 2002, that their relations thawed and the peace process began.

The danger of such khaki fantasies about the effectiveness of military force should be only too obvious. We have already paid a heavy price for them. Tomorrow, the price could take the form of a mushroom cloud.

One thing is becoming clear. Musharraf's book will ruffle many features and create resentment and suspicion in both Pakistan and India. It is unlikely to contribute to the dialogue process. Indeed, that process will have to go on despite the book.


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