Thursday, September 04, 2008

Adieu Pervez

This past August, things got so out of hand in Kashmir that one watershed event went almost unnoticed. Musharraf exited as Pakistan’s most controversial, candid and colorful president ever. I don’t wish to write a political elegiac for him but I’ve no qualms in saying -- that although not without his own set of flaws -- Musharraf was an out-right liberal who not only popularized out-of-the-box political thinking but turned out to be more democratic than most of Pakistan’s present crop of leaders.

It is no secret that Mush took power in a coup and some of his policies -- like exiling the tough-nut Punjabi Nawaz or taking on the tribal chief justice Iftikar --were blatantly autocratic. However Musharraf lorded over a nation of 170 million believers in a post 9/11 world with such prudence that it won’t be wrong to say that he dragged Pakistan back from the brink of militant frenzy. Mush paved the way for the entry of private media in Pakistan. From one state run TV station, when he took power, Pakistan now has 50 independent media houses. Ironically all of them now bad-mouth the man, who gave them the medium to speak.

Pervez made genuine peace moves with India like no Pakistani politician. He came to Agra and wooed the Indian media. Mush, much to the chagrin of the hard-line elements both in Pakistan and Kashmir, proposed to deliberate on the Kashmir issue with a new mind-set. Borders with India saw a never before lull as skirmishes fell to a naught. He not only ensured but sincerely adhered to a cease-fire with India. Since the new government has come into being this year, Pakistan has returned to its old naughty ways, and if we go by recent news, the return of democracy in that country has seen a return of cross-border firing and major disturbance in Kashmir.

Mush banded with the US in the war on terror. Though a loaded political term, given the terror Americans export to other parts of the world, Mush’s war on the extreme elements in his country did keep them on a tight leash. The support to US brought him doles of aid and much needed assistance for infrastructure projects in Pakistan. He threw the fundamentalists out of Islamabad’s Red mosque and tried to police the tribal bad-lands, though without much success. This made him many enemies, who attacked with him an increased ferocity each time. Mush survived every attempt like the proverbial cat of nine lives. The half-salutes and chutpah almost never stopped.

The new-found confidence of the Pakistani middle-class can safely be alluded to Musharraf’s bold liberal economic policies. Together with his technocrat prime minister Shaukat Aziz, he led the average Pakistani to newer pastures. The country’s economy grew by a record 7%. Foreign investment grew by leaps. Pity, no one remembers Mush for the gratuity. Pakistan very much remains a land of vendetta where you are often remembered for your trivial mistakes and not for the larger good. Mush is its latest victim.

His downfall began the day Benazir was killed on his watch. Mush should have been more watchful but fate is an inscrutable bird. Benazir was a huge huge leader. I knew, as I posted shortly thereafter, that Musharraf’s days are numbered. He tried to play his cards safe but ultimately they brought him down along with his fearless, stylish, winsome ways.

Now we wait for Benazir’s crooked husband to be crowned the new king. He is an old corrupt playboy. Pakistani ruling class is, notoriously, showy and shallow. Nawaz is no different. Already there are fissures in the coalition government. Suicide bombings continue. Islamists are grinning. The Americans are keeping up the pressure. The PM’s car was fired at yesterday. Anarchy reigns. Pakistan style!

Musharraf, my fave soldier, will know.