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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#2153, 21 November 2006
In the Line of Fire: Pakistan Army Firdaus Ahmed
Pervez Musharraf's memoir 'In the Line of Fire' has deservedly drawn critical fire. The excuse is that he has been candid in keeping with his commando image. The resulting publicity has helped sell his book. Missing in the controversies surrounding the book, and the image of its author, is the nature of his regime and its limitations.
Despite the widespread skepticism that greeted his book, it must be acknowledged that Musharraf has got some things right. These constitute its strengths and keep the world, particularly his leading backer, the USA, interested in his political and personal longevity. In keeping with the tenets of strategic rationality in which career army officers are schooled, he has chosen to side with the West in the global war on terror (GWOT). Musharraf has been wise in not sacrificing Pakistan for saving its wayward creation, the Taliban. He has also conjured up the right ideological plank of 'enlightened moderation' to navigate Pakistan through the problem of sectarianism and religious extremism that could be exacerbated by Pakistan's cooperation in the GWOT.
Musharraf has got much more than only the title of his book right. But, of equal, if not greater, consequence is what he has got wrong. It is missing the main problem of Pakistan -its army; hence, his diagnosis of Pakistan's problems is both inadequate and self serving. Having made the army his power base, he needs to perpetuate its corporate interests. Therefore, he takes the army to be the solution to Pakistan's problems. There are three major areas affected by Musharraf's inability to transcend his military origins.
First, he is required to defend the traditional security interests of the army, notably its, and consequently Pakistan's, position on Kashmir. Pakistan-based, ISI-assisted terrorism continues to be his leverage against India, even if its utility in bringing about a changed Indian stance is suspect. The investigation into the train blasts in Mumbai, publicly released by the city's police chief, testifies to the army-controlled ISI continuing as an active antagonist. Taming it to progress the peace process, in keeping with the Islamabad agreement of Jan 2004, has not been possible owing to Musharraf's political weakness arising from his ethnicity.
Second, he cannot whittle the defense budget and spend more on the social sector, though in his perspective, explained in his book, this sector is the more crucial front against terrorism. He instead hopes that an expanding economy would eventually result in greater allocations for this sector. The more direct and quicker route, as suggested by eminent Pakistani commentators like Hussain Haqqani and Pervez Hoodbhoy, is diverting spending away from the military, but is a non-starter due to his need to keep the army satisfied.
Third. he emphasizes that democracy needs to adapt to the local genius, which, in the case of Pakistan, translates into continuance of the army as its 'guardian'- in keeping with the Turkish model of military praetorianism (admired by the self-confessed, would-be Kemal Ataturk) - having himself spent a legacy of his childhood spent in Turkey. This easy intervention by the army will continue to keep Pakistan from maturing as a democracy, even if the two former exiled former prime ministers were to participate in the forthcoming 2007elections.
Musharraf aspires to be a Pakistani de Gaulle, a military man taking decisions based on national interest. General de Gaulle, however, had a vast background in politics by leading the Free French political and military forces through the Second World War. Other generals who excelled in the public field, like Eisenhower and Marshall, all had prior exposure to the higher echelons of national power in the war years. Musharraf, on the contrary, has led a cantonment existence, with only a brief exposure to middle level martial law administration during the Zia years. At best, he is an interim answer to Pakistan's predicament in the vortex of global security.
Resumption of the hurly burly of politics may be the long term answer for Pakistan to make peace with itself and its neighbors. For this to come about, acknowledging its army as part of its problem would be a fair starting point. 'In the Line of Fire', however, tells us that Pakistan will remain in the line of fire for some time to come.

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