The last time I shook his hand, he was leaving 1 Corps Headquarters Mangla for Rawalpindi. I was posted at the Corps Headquarters as a Grade 11 staff officer. On that day, General Pervez Musharraf had no idea why he was being summoned to Rawalpindi by the prime minister. Neither did rest of the country, which would first see him become the chief of army staff, and later, see in him another military ruler who would rule this country for the next nine years. Sixteen years later, as I stood once again shaking his hand and wishing him adieu, the only thought that crossed my mind was: does the General and the country, once again, have any idea about when and where he is likely to be summoned?
I was part of the 12 Alumni of the National Defence University, Islamabad, that the General had agreed to meet at his residence on November 9. Warm and welcoming, he conducted an hour-long interactive session with us that remained full of intellect and ideas. Truth be told, he seemed at peace with himself. The manner in which he answered our questions was very much illustrative of his style of leadership: principled without being offensive, grand and philosophical without being ideological, objective and forceful without being doctrinaire.
When asked to point out the three important things that he thought he should not have done during his rule, he listed the passing of the NRO, the selection of General Kayani as army chief and the poor handling of the chief justice affair. However, he was sure of the appropriateness of the grounds on which he called for the former chief justice’s resignation, but regretted all the follow-up actions that translated into the lawyers’ movement.
About Imran Khan and the future of his tsunami, he was not very hopeful. Identifying arrogance and ignorance as the two vital deficiencies in any political leader, he implied that Imran Khan possessed both. He was not particularly impressed with the current solo political flight that Imran Khan and his party are undertaking. Without political reforms, General Musharraf considered “his style of politics” and the deliverables that he was promising, least likely to see the “political daylight”.
The General’s idea of addressing Pakistan’s current political woes was simple: setting up an empowered interim government. His description of empowerment was a government that was “military backed”, as well as “judiciary backed”. He opined that unless such a government was formed and undertook the all necessary political reforms, the next elections will again be as inconsequential in bringing any change as has been the case with all previous elections. He advocated that the most suitable role that the military could perform during the current political crisis was that of “the force in being”. Its best utility was to remain as the “power in waiting”, which has the ability to address political errors, but should not actually do so. Given the current circumstances, the military, he suggested, should not usurp power as the chances of the nation reaping the rewards of such a decision are too less compared with the strong chances of failure.
At a personal level, he felt betrayed by General Kayani. He agreed that the absence of the “military commanders resolve” was an important factor in General Kayani’s inability to initiate the much-delayed military operation in North Waziristan. In his opinion, if such an operation had taken place earlier, the military would have dismantled and destroyed the “nerve centre of the terrorists” long ago, thus preventing the great losses that both the military and the nation suffered.
Undoubtedly, sab say pehlay Pakistan (putting the country first), was the nucleus around which he built his responses and presented his point of view. Hence, none of us, for even a moment doubted the General’s love for the country. Yet, the fact remains that the position he rose to in the military may earn him the title of being an able and competent general, but the many political errors that he committed during his military rule suggest that he lacked the craft needed to be a successful politician.
His worst folly, though, was to try being a soldier and politician simultaneously. His critics believe that he was not good at being either, but many admirers judge the man for who he is: the former president of Pakistan who, when he had the chance, didn’t wield his authority effectively enough to create a Pakistan that he really wanted. This, today, should be his biggest regret.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2014.