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Rising peril, stricken leadership

Rising peril, stricken leadership

Author: Ayaz Amir
Publication: The Dawn
Date: May 24, 2002

If war is too serious a business to be left to generals, what would Clemenceau (the originator of this timeless phrase) have said about part-time generals? The situation on our borders is grim and could well spiral out of control. But more alarming than Indian intentions is the sense of drift at home.

This is a time for national unity, for subordinating self-interest to the national good. But the military government with its divisive policies is ill-suited to deliver this goal. The results are there for all to see: a ruling coterie enclosed in a capsule, cut off from public sentiment and opinion.

The television pictures of the three meetings Gen Musharraf held on Wednesday with media persons, his cabinet and a clutch of leaders of B-grade or Tonga Parties said it all. In all these pictures the only person shown talking was the Generalissimo. This has been one of the problems with this dispensation. Even if Musharraf was a Demosthenes or a Cicero there is such a thing as too much talking. He has been talking virtually non-stop since the time he seized power. And look what a soup the country is in. It's high time he did some listening.

At this juncture when only a fool would totally rule out the possibility of war, the last luxury Pakistan can afford is part-timism. Gen Musharraf owes it to the nation to shed his uniform, install the best available general - which means no loyal Musa Khan - as army chief and himself concentrate on his presidential duties. Contrary to what he may fear - yes, the Generalissimo is known to entertain fears - this step will be applauded by all Pakistanis and will strengthen him more than a dozen spurious referendums.

The next thing the General must do is to swallow his prejudices and open lines of communication with the two political leaders who still matter the most as far as popular sentiment is concerned - Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Far from destroying them, the military government by its sorry record has rebuilt their standing and credibility. This is the reality on the ground and wisdom lies in accepting it. Indeed, getting these two leaders and their parties on board is more important at this juncture than relying on hopes resting on American intercession.

As for corruption charges against the two leaders, the military government having not been an impartial referee is hardly in a position to talk of justice and fair play. Let it concentrate on repairing internal fissures and manning the nation's defences. Other considerations can take a backseat for the moment.

And, please, an end once for all to reconstruction theories. If anything deserves a kick into oblivion at this time it is the National Reconstruction Bureau with its half-baked ideas of reform. The Constitution too needs to be protected from further mangling, no one having the mandate to touch it regardless of the supposed indulgence granted by the Supreme Court.

Which Supreme Court? That headed by Chief Justice Irshad Hasan Khan who, in his later incarnation as chief election commissioner, has certified the referendum to be objective, impartial and transparent? Enough of these games. Musharraf should look to the crisis the country is in and desist from wasting time on non-essential issues. The Constitution in any case is not his to play around with.

Above all, Musharraf should take political parties which matter, rather than Tonga Parties, into confidence and make a categorical announcement about party-based elections in October minus the constitutional amendments he has spent so much time talking about. Leading to those elections the country needs a government of national unity with representatives from the PPP and the PML-N sitting in it. The corps commanders must not be distracted from their professional duties.

In times of war, or impending war, the spirit of a nation counts far more than hardware. The best tanks, the latest warplanes are important but of no use when spirit and morale are lacking. We at any rate being a poor country do not have the best equipment. Our greatest strength has to lie in the morale of our fighting men and the fervour of our people. But these feelings will not be aroused by a military regime which, considering itself infallible and self-sufficient, is rowing upstream all by itself.

There is no call for false drum-beating on this score. Unless we are to fall victims to our own propaganda, we must recognize facts for what they are and take urgent measures to overcome our weaknesses. The public needs to be aroused out of its torpor, not through the meaningless rhetoric to which it has been treated these past two and a half years but through sincere attempts at national unity.

There was no shortage of people who expected a great deal from Gen Musharraf when he arrived on the national scene. Now the same people feel betrayed as they see the drift engendered by his policies. At this hour of national peril, however, Gen Musharraf has another chance, probably his last, to do well by his country. But only if he can bring himself to sacrifice personal ambition at the altar of the national good. Then see what happens. Stirred to its depths, this nation will be in a position to break the teeth of any Indian aggression.

The incessant chatter of using nuclear weapons as an option of last resort is a sign of defeatism for it implies that we are bound to lose a conventional war. Since when has this become the accepted wisdom? We have an army large enough, and hopefully strong enough, to foil any aggression. Nuclear weapons are for Armageddon. God forbid that that moment should have arrived for Pakistan.

All that our armed forces need is the unreserved backing of the nation. This they will get when the army command breaks out of its isolation and Gen Musharraf draws a line not between his supporters and opponents, as he did so disastrously during his ill-starred referendum, but between self-interest and the national interest.

The moment this happens, the moment Gen Musharraf steps aside as army chief and appoints a full-time successor, and the moment he announces his willingness to reach out to Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, this crisis will abate and the war clouds around the Himalayas disappear.

India is taking advantage of our weakness and of the isolation of the military regime. The moment it sees national unity at work it will have to think twice about engaging Pakistan in war, limited or otherwise.

Indeed it is fair to say we wouldn't have faced this crisis if a political leadership had been in power. Far from making Pakistan strong, military rule has made it impotent. Never was national honour so low, or national humiliation so near. We didn't even show gumption enough to ask for the right wages for providing loyal service in Afghanistan. We thought we had outsmarted India but now face an Indian threat more grave than at any time since 1971.

Our military godfathers also thought siding with the US would protect our Kashmir policy. They failed to realize that Afghanistan and Kashmir were part of the same thinking and that ditching the Taliban also necessarily implied ditching the notion of jihad in Kashmir. That being the case, we should have readjusted Kashmir policy in line with the new realities ourselves instead of having to beat a steady retreat, step by step, under external pressure.

These are harsh things to say and maybe difficult to swallow for many people. Our notion of patriotism has meant supporting the official line no matter how disastrous its consequences. The nation rallied behind Ayub Khan even when he blundered into the 1965 war. West Pakistan rallied behind Yahya Khan even when he led the nation into the humiliation of the 1971 war. The questions that should have been asked were not asked when the army command under Gen Musharraf blundered into the ill-fated Kargil adventure in 1999.

The stakes are much higher this time if only because to the periodic war-mongering, which seems to be the dismal fate of the subcontinent, there now has been added a nuclear dimension. Two monkeys slashing the air with nuclear razors: the prospect is frightening.

It is obvious Pakistan can afford no misstep or miscalculation. But more importantly, it cannot afford anything that induces or reinforces national weakness. It needs a full-time army chief for whom military maneuvering takes precedence over political maneuvering. And it needs a political compromise (call it historic, if you will) that heals the nation's internal wounds and in this hour of peril forges national unity. To politicking and the pursuit of narrow self-interest we can return when this crisis is over.

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