Sep 18, 2009

Pakistan’s perspective

‘I enjoy the opportunity to clear up misconceptions,’ he has been quoted as saying in the Guardian. However, its doubtful a lecture series in the US can clear up all the ‘misconceptions’ the common Pakistani has about former president General (rtd) Pervez Musharraf.
While the nation pondered over his treason charges and wondered if he’d appear in court, Musharraf sat in London, supposedly making the most out of his retirement – or at least that’s what the general assumption was. But this week it was revealed that powers who must not be named, along with President Zardari had decided on granting Musharraf a ‘safe exit’ as a part of a deal negotiated by his ‘guarantors’. Hence, no action would be taken against the former president under Article 6 of the Constitution.

It is believed that a trial involving Musharraf would also end up involving a lot of politicians, judges and army generals and so instead of allowing that mess to spill out, it was decided that sending him off to play golf would be a better option for everyone – except for perhaps Nawaz Sharif who maintains the vendetta against the retired general who ousted him in 1999, is nothing personal.

Sharif said in an interview that he was dismayed about not being taken into confidence over the deal and could have guided President Zardari ‘in the right direction’ had he known the plan. Not sure what would classify as the right direction for Sharif but reports do state that he had assured King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that he was going to soften his stance and not seek Musharraf’s trial for treason. Too many talks mixed with too many interventions make certain things less plausible than others but one thing is for certain; Saudi Arabia no longer remains just the spiritual leader of the Muslim world but instead has also extended its management services to Pakistan’s dirty politics.

Saudi Arabia has undoubtedly played an important role in Musharraf’s exit and post-retirement life but just how cushy is Musharraf’s life right now? Not so much, a recent article by Declan Walsh states. Musharraf’s three-bedroom flat on Edgware Road might have silk carpets and leather couches but it probably is no match to the prestigious abode at the Army House (which he eventually moved out of 18 months after resigning as Chief of Army Staff). More than reminiscing about the good old days in the crisp uniform and Army House, Musharraf must also be homesick for the home he built but never got to live in – the Chak Shahzad mansion lies empty.

When evacuating the Army House in May, Musharraf’s spokesman had stated ‘he has no plans of settling abroad.’ Yet here we are, a few months down the road and he is currently living in a country where his rivals have caught their breath while in exile. Speculations suggest he will probably move on to the Middle East or to the US after this – returning to the homeland is something the patriot might not be able to pull off for a while to come.

Although still spoken of as the dictator, a large group still roots for him and still thinks he was the most personable representative the country could have had. He was presentable, witty and sharp. He was patriotic, and let’s not forget, he did take off the uniform as he said he would, even if it was done with reluctance and a few about-turns.

But now that his own actions have caused things to pan out in a way where he has to stay away, a ‘let him be’ attitude can be expected too. Isn’t that what the deal-makers did too? Let things slide so that he can move aside and sit far away making nice shots on foreign greens and singing classical ghazals (which are fated to become great hits on YouTube, if no where else).

Those still cursing Musharraf or still wanting him to be brought to books don’t realise how much the man may be cashing in from the attention – even if it’s negative. He’s job offers in the US, he’s giving lectures to various institutions and charging thousands of dollars. He’s boasting Saudi assurance and consistently reiterating that no one can touch him. Since his guarantors have his back and Scotland Yard his front, with his retired commandos on the side, Musharraf must feel like he’s got a pretty good circle of security going around him.

In fact, this boost of invincibility might be linked to him going on public television and stating that Pakistan had diverted the US aid and ammunition, given for the 'war on terror', against India. Some say he’s just playing dirty games now but no doubt he must have upset the establishment making such claims. The Foreign Ministry discussed his ‘loose talk’ and basically had a ‘what was he thinking?’ discussion but still have no concrete reason as to what could have prompted him to do such ‘disservice to the country.’ Realising that another classical ghazal clip might have faired better with the volatile public right now, Musharraf later in the day retracted his statement and said that he was misquoted.

Leaving aside his motives, actions, mistakes and intentions, perhaps its time Musharraf is left alone to enjoy his musical evenings. He will go on touring the world and talking about holding the ‘most dangerous job in the world’ and giving his expert analyses and sharp one-liners on Pakistan and the ‘war against terror,’ all worth thousands of dollars.

He insists he isn’t in exile, but we all know there is a reason why Pervez Musharraf is not teeing off on Pakistan’s golf courses. His mark on Pakistan’s future presidencies is evident as we see President Zardari following the tradition of retracting statements quicker than anyone can yell ‘about-turn!’

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