No, better the known devil than the unknown
It is said that old soldiers never die, they just fade away. Well, General Musharraf, a soldier’s soldier, chose to go “gentle into that good night” and not try another coup. It is a rather sad ending to the career of a past master at a two-faced game, hunting with the hounds and running with the hares, and friends with both. Unfortunately, he now joins the likes of Pinochet, Noriega, and Hussein in the garbage-bin of history.
I don’t think this is particularly positive for India or the United States. For, at the very least, Musharraf was a dependable villain. We knew him and had gotten used to his strutting commando ways. Pakistan is a creation of the three A’s, it has been said: America, Army, and Allah, in some order. Apparently, Musharraf has been abandoned at least by America and the Army.
The problem is that as much as military dictators are bad, in Pakistan, the civilian governments are even worse. This may well be, alas, because civilian governments accurately reflect the wishes of the populace. According to a Pew Attitude Survey a few months ago, the Pakistani people on average are hostile to the United States. As for India, there are plenty of reasons to believe that there is serious animosity and possibly downright hatred.
It was under the civilian government of Zulfikar Bhutto that Pakistan decided to pursue its nuclear bomb. Bhutto promised famously to “eat grass” in pursuit of this deal. In the event, of course, he didn’t have to go on a herbivorous diet, he merely had to call his pals in Beijing to get nuclear bombs and missiles. His other pals in the CIA winked at this little violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Similarly, it was during Benazir Bhutto’s tenure that the ethnic cleansing of Kashmir— driving 400,000 Hindu Pundits into permanent exile—was planned and executed. The heart-rending video by Ashok Pandit, And the World Remained Silent, shows graphic footage of a shrieking Benazir chivvying on the faithful: a bit unlike the “model, moderate, modern” Oxford-Radcliffe image.
Not to suggest that Pakistan’s military dictators are angels, of course. General Zia encouraged the radical fundamentalization of the army and of textbooks. Musharraf was the architect of the misadventure in Kargil, which cost many young lives; he also quite likely blessed the Kandahar highjacking drama and the ongoing Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) infiltration into India.
However, the world had figured out how to deal with Musharraf. And he did show some backbone against the most fanatic elements, such as in his storming of the Red Mosque last year. His successors, Asif Zardari, Mr. 10-percent himself, and Nawaz Sharif, who wanted to bring in Sharia law, hardly inspire a great deal of confidence.
Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Chennai, India.
Yes, civilians are more likely to rein in extremists
General Musharraf will choose to spend his remaining days in comfortable retirement in the United States, where his son lives, or in Turkey, where he spent his childhood. To the end, he is looking out for his own selfish interests, like all those macho dictators of Latin America.
Musharraf is only the latest military dictator to leave Pakistan progressively weaker and more polarized. Now it is practically a failed state. Despite all his cleverness and smart talk, he actually promoted hostility and instability, which he had in fact promised to crush. His remarkable 180-degree turnaround after 9/11 saved his own neck, but years later, the terrorist threat from the Al-Qaeda in sanctuaries in Pakistan has manifestly increased.
Only civilians can bring peace to Pakistan, because they are answerable to the people in a democracy. Musharraf’s rule was really the rule of the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The $11 billion or so that Musharraf (the “indispensable ally against terrorism” who turned out to be entirely disposable) extorted from the Americans went not towards anti-terrorism, but for buying toys like F-16s to wage war against India.
Musharraf, along with the ISI, dreamt of “strategic depth” gained by colonizing Afghanistan and turning it into a protectorate. This laid the groundwork for the Taliban and, indirectly, 9/11, leaving the Americans with more than they bargained for when supporting Musharraf.
According to the New York Times, “Civilian leaders must acknowledge a dangerous and painful truth: key leaders of Pakistan’s military and [the ISI] have long collaborated with armed Islamic extremists operating in Afghanistan, the Indian province of Kashmir and Pakistan’s own tribally administered regions … these militants kill American and NATO soldiers, Indian diplomats, and Pakistani civilians.”
Musharraf and Co. have no control over these men whom they have armed and supported: classic “riding the tiger.” The civilians recognize the danger the ISI poses. Though thwarted in their most recent attempt to bring the ISI under civilian control, they will persist.
Musharraf, who could never get beyond his training as a commando, was good at the tactical issues, but failed to grasp the strategic issues behind them. Thus, in pursuing the tactical advantage of strategic depth, he did not see the strategic problem of the descent of his country into a failed state full of warring factions.
Musharraf and the military got the hardware like the F-16s that they mistakenly believed would confer longevity and respectability on them. This was enough for the dictator. He did nothing to quell the anger welling up among his impoverished and fanatic citizens. Neither India nor the United States will miss the General.
Remitha Satheesh is a freelance writer in Cary, North Carolina.