I have no guilt in admitting that for a long time I was in awe of Gen Pervez Musharraf. I thought of him as a cool chap, not withstanding our mandatory neighbor bashing. After a spate of hard-nosed, wily politicians on either sides of the divide, who usually have a cloaked axe to grind, here we had a guy -- refreshingly candid -- who could deliver. Always thinking out-of-box, a catch phrase he made incredibly popular on his first visit to India, the commando was endearing. With his Mouser pistol firmly in the holster, grip always showing, and a military air, he would charm the media. The US swore by him. Pakistan’s economy began to steady. Peace with India, despite the oh-so-usual irritants, looked like a real possibility.
Ruling Pakistan is always an arduous task. The country simply does not have a democratic culture. Whenever democrats feel close to real power in that country, they have turned autocrats. Bhutto senior is a case in point. Recently, Nawaz won by landslides but soon slid to autocratic ways. No wonder the all-powerful Pakistani military has played an influential role in mainstream politics throughout Pakistan's history with military presidents ruling from 1958–69 (Gen Ayub Khan), 1969-71 (Gen Yahya Khan), 1977–88 (Gen Zia) and from 1999 onwards (Gen Musharraf). That’s roughly 32 years. Successive civilian governments in Pakistan have had to either eat crow or play second fiddle to its army. In our generation, Gen Mush has been the face of Pakistan and its army.
Until recently. How times change? And so swiftly. Musharraf is now a much reviled person in his country. If there were any popularity ratings in Pakistan, as there are in the US, he would fare lower than Bush Jr., his best buddy. But Crawford Ranch seems a long distance from Army House, Rawalpindi. Bronx cheered from the left and right, Mush has been cornered. The Islamists are out there to have his scalp. How Al-Zawahiri would love to see Mush skinned alive! Politicians across the spectrum – from Nawaz’s Muslim League N to Bhutto’s PPP – would like to see his back. Add to the chorus -- the plucky, retaliative CJ of Pakistan, a dodgy gentleman with dyed hair, who is passing order after order against the Gen in a pickle.
Mush must be licking his wounds. I wonder who the heck advised him to remove the CJ? That’s when it all began. Power misused is like a pet serpent that can lunge at you! The Gen set his own declension. Now even Mohterma Bhutto, despite a clandestine deal with the Gen – who once called her names – is bargaining hard. Nawaz seems set to return from exile. Adding to Mush’s woes are: Hold your breath -- the huge advocates lobby, the mad-mullah’s association, a former playboy cricketer-turned-politician, radical Pakistani media who think he is too close to the US, rightwing US media who opine he is not doing too much to fight terror, an angry judiciary, pro-Pakistan leaders in Kashmir who feel he betrayed them, tribal leaders because he’s tough on them, US presidential hopefuls because he’s not too tough in the border areas, the dreaded elusive Al-Qaeda, displaced Lal masjid students because he violated their den. Poor Mush.
The next few weeks are going to be snappy for Mush. He may have to quit as army chief. He may have to sleep with the enemy. He may even have to abdicate. He may well have a surprise in store. Only time will tell. Till then, it is going to be Hobson's choice for the dishy Gen. Let’s hope he swims through.