General Pervez Musharraf
Though a military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf brought in reforms that many a civilian ruler could not even think of.
General Musharraf was in the true sense a professional soldier. He was commissioned in the Corp of Artillery, but his passion for adventure and high-risk assignments lured him to serve in the Special Services Group during his relatively early part of service. His professional competence and dedication to service earned him a solid reputation and he rose to the highest rank in the army. I had known him from the days that he was serving in Kharian as a major in an Artillery regiment and I was commanding an EME Battalion. When he was the Corp Commander in Mangla I had invited him to attend my daughter’s wedding in Islamabad and I casually asked him what were his chances of becoming the Army Chief, as the change was due in a few months. He unhesitatingly replied that he was confident to make it, despite the fact he was not the senior most among the aspirants. This was the level of his self-confidence and zeal to serve the country in the highest rank.
Under President Musharraf, Pakistan became a very viable country. Internationally, Pakistan’s status rose high. Our growth was very good - in one particular year, it reached 6.8 percent. Even President Musharraf’s critics will agree that he was the only leader who came almost near to settling the Kashmir dispute. At the Non-Aligned Summit in Malaysia in 2003, which was attended by leaders from all over the world, two leaders were particularly prominent. One was Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the other was Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. At the end of the Conference, I managed to convince President Musharraf that he should also address the press conference that was to be held because this would be a very good opportunity for him to gain world media attention. He was reluctant at first but then he agreed. When the media learnt that he was one of the speakers, they rushed in like mad. The place was so full that there were even people sitting on the ground. There were many other world leaders also present there, such as President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Vajpayee. These are irrefutable facts that history will judge him with.
However, in the capacity as President, Musharraf’s constraints were many and military training was certainly one of them. Policies developed by military command are formulated for issues generally looked at in isolation. This is understandable as military training emphasizes elimination of extraneous factors, but the real world is not compartmentalized. General Zia made the same mistake thinking that Pakistan’s active participation in the Afghan Jihad would have no consequences.
General Musharraf was under considerable international pressure, particularly from the US, to shed his uniform and legitimize his rule through free and fair elections.
Initially, General Musharraf had planned to stay for one or two years but the lust for power and his genuine desire to put the country on the “right track” made him change his mind. The lust for power and the vested interests of those surrounding the military ruler are opposed to abandoning power. This is a common phenomenon that had also influenced the three military rulers that came before him.
The simultaneous involvement of Pakistan in the Afghan Jihad and support of the Kashmiri struggle was a policy I had thought Pakistan would not be able to bear. He had b had advised to focus on one at a time. But he thought that I was going soft on India. The inability to see the bigger picture that makes it imperative that military policy should be subservient to national policy. Pakistani people deeply respect the role and importance of military in providing the nation’s security under extremely challenging conditions but are opposed to military intervention in politics. When a military leader usurps legitimate civilian authority, there is temporary calm and sense of order but it is short-lived. In the longer term it undermines democratic development, lowers the country’s image and damages national security in the process.
Military leaders prefer centralized government and clear command and control systems. It is so obvious, clear lines of authority are what armies need to do their job. It is therefore not surprising that National Assemblies and Senate are dissolved and delegitimized by the state under military rule, as it happened in case of East Pakistan under General Yahya, or Balochistan under General Musharraf. Civil war can be the result as it was in East Pakistan. Less serious, but there is a simmering discontent in Balochistan since Musharraf’s days that needs to be addressed. But what is generally overlooked is that military takeovers have resulted in causing a huge setback to the nascent democracy of Pakistan.
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as Chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board.