In his days at the Pakistan army and staff college, Pervez Musharraf attracted attention for his confidence and initiative but also for a certain brashness that could verge on being reckless. It would seem Musharraf had oodles of faith in himself and was not really open to considering whether he might need to review a decision or if someone else’s point of view merited consideration.
His phone-tapped conversation with his second in command during the height of the Kargil war provides more evidence that the trait never left him. The release of the transcripts was a major war-time coup for the Research and Analysis Wing and conclusively nailed Musharraf’s lies that no regular troops were involved in the intrusions in Muskoh, Dras, Batalik and Kargil. The tapes helped turn the mood against Pakistan in most world capitals.
The tapes also revealed that Musharraf, who passed away on Sunday at age 79 in UAE following serious ailments, had barely told then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about what he was up to, leave along other wings of the armed forces. It was typical of the man to attempt a scheming bold attack and maintain secrecy, not just for operational reasons, but to ensure he cornered the success.
As it turned out Musharraf underestimated both the Vajpayee government’s political will and the preparedness of the Indian Army to evict the enemy even at great cost. Young Indian officers and jawans climbed sheer ice faces and charged bunkers to retrieve lost territory while the Indian Air Force quickly re-fitted Mirage 2000 aircraft with GPS facilities to accurately target Pakistani positions and ammunition dumps. If India was not winning the war, US President Bill Clinton would have found no reason to summon Sharif on July 4 to ask him to withdraw from the line of control.
In the years that followed when he became Pakistan’s ruler, Musharraf was for some time transformed into an “ally” of the US after 9/11. He sought to explain that this was the need of the hour. But some Islamist groups never forgave him for helping America’s war on Taliban and his life was under constant threat. Later on, an assault on Islamist extremists holed up in Islamabad in 2007 that led to more than a 100 deaths, cemented the hostility. By the time he was forced to quit his image as a tough talking but forthright soldier had taken quite a beating. He came to be seen as just another general clinging to office.
Pakistan in a crisis
There is a deep irony in the circumstances of Musharraf’s passing. Living as an exile for several years in London and UAE, the general was unwelcome in Pakistan with even the Army he once led seeing him as a liability. For a Mohajir (Urdu speaking migrant) who was four when his family left their Daryaganj house in Delhi for Pakistan, life turned a full circle but not the way he wanted. Instead of receiving honours for serving his country, Pakistan became unsafe for him. He was sentenced to death for high treason for imposing an emergency illegally and was also named in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. No one would offer any odds on his life in Pakistan.
Oddly enough, some commentary on his death has suggested that he had a “love-hate” relationship with India. Nothing could be more fallacious. Musharraf always felt he could get the better of Indian leaders and was often insulting and boastful in interviews to Indian media. He was, in fact, a ruthless man who would not have hesitated to humiliate India if he could, something that would embellish and vindicate his credentials as a loyal migrant who’s family chose Pakistan over India.
During the ill-advised talks with Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Agra in 2001, Musharraf lost no time in bringing up Jammu and Kashmir, making it apparent that he had come to seal a deal. Vajpayee remarked to his aides that the general was being too clever by half, thinking a decades-old problem could be resolved in exclusion to all other issues and that too on his terms. The summit crashed and Musharraf departed in a foul mood. But even hours before he flew out, he met Vajpayee with a “draft” on J&K which the former refused to consider.
Agra was a close shave for the Vajpayee government and soon an attack on Parliament brought India and Pakistan close to war. When the two leaders met again in early 2004, Vajpayee insisted on a clear commitment that Pakistan would not allow its soil to be used for terrorism against India. The commitment has been violated innumerable times since but this was the first time Pakistan put it down in writing.
Double dealing over Kashmir
Musharraf and Vajpayee’s successor in office Manmohan Singh have been reported to have discussed many innovative solutions such as “soft borders” before the general’s resignation ended the dalliance. The exact contours of Musharraf’s four point formula is not precisely known but were apparently intended to make ”borders irrelevant.” It will be no surprise if Musharraf was hoping to pull off a coup that would serve to legitimise Pakistan’s claims and further entrench Kashmir’s “disputed” status. The colossal imprudence of the “soft borders” and “joint sovereignty” idea is even more evident today in the light of India’s decision to scrap the application of Article 370 to J&K and end all ambiguity about the state of Kashmir.
There is little doubt that Sharif would not have been prime minister for long if Musharraf had actually succeeded in Kargil. The general was unlikely to have retired a hero, content with his battle honours. But he pulled the rug after Sharif tried to sack him. Musharraf became dictator of Pakistan and Sharif fled to London and in a subsequent election Musharraf ensured there were no credible competitors. A referendum on allowing Musharraf to continue as President for five years was held in 2002 was approved by more than 97% voters. Some observers wondered if the 2% dissenters were also a “rigged” vote or a mistaken ballot!
Musharraf’s background as a special forces man showed in the Kargil war, with Pakistan seizing heights Indian forces withdrew from during winter and a strategy intended to cut off Leh from Srinagar. Some who were privy to his interactions aver he was capable of continuous dissimulation – a feature of special forces training. But as his mates at staff college noted, Musharraf had his rash side. He bit of more than he could chew when he sacked supreme court judges provoking a lawyers’ strike.
When Sharif returned to office, he did not forget the ignominy heaped on him by Musharraf and cases followed. By the time, Pakistan had tired of Musharraf anyway. At time of his death, Pakistan is in the grip of an unprecedented economic crisis. The strategy of exporting terror against India continues but the gap between the two nations has grown exponentially. In the end, Musharraf will be seen as a duplicitous man responsible for a great many deaths in pursuit of personal aggrandisement.