And since he has been reacting on the spur of the moment to events of even major import and to situations carrying competing implications without consulting his nation, the President has been finding it increasingly impossible to mobilise the people at large in support of his pronounced policies.
And therefore, his seeming failure to make good the public promises he has been making on major issues, specially the ones he has been repeating ad nauseam about domestic extremism.
On January 12, 2002, seemingly under pressure from the US and the West, Musharraf promised in a nation-wide address that he would do everything in his powers to eliminate at the earliest the extremists and extremism from Pakistani society. His stunning failure on this score three years down the line made him repeat the same promise to Tony Blair after 7/7 when the British Prime Minister using perhaps almost the same language used after 9/11 by the US administration, had given Musharraf a final warning.
And as in the past the President not only made one more address to the nation promising to do the needful but he also ordered a crackdown on the madrassas. This time he has so far captured nearly 700 known hardliners including, by a quirk of happy coincidence for him, the man who had allegedly lured US journalist Daniel Pearl to meet Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged killer of the Wall Street Journal reporter. And right on cue, by way of reward perhaps Musharraf received the other day a personal telephone call from President Bush congratulating him on this ‘major success’ in the ‘war against international terrorism’.
But only the naïve would miss the point that this man had been living in Gujranwala for well over three years without being noticed by Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies who according to a recent claim of Musharraf have already dismantled the Al Qaeda network in Pakistan completely. And more interestingly, Omar Sheikh is still ‘rotting’ in jail despite having been sentenced to death a couple of years back.
Again, it had been an abrasive Musharraf who quickly, without much argument or resistance had agreed with Washington that Pakistan had indulged in proliferation, when traces of enriched uranium were found in centrifuges discovered in the Iranian facilities and a ship-load of nuclear material purported to be of Pakistani origin was captured on the high seas while on way to Libya. He, however, insisted that actual proliferation was not done at the state level but by some individuals led by Dr A Q Khan. So, because Musharraf could not defend Pakistan’s case properly on the proliferation issue, a national hero became a national villain overnight.
Musharraf jumped the gun again when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed the fear that after Musharraf, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of the extremists. He called an emergency meeting of Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority and warned: "No one had the right to speculate about the effectiveness and reliability of the country’s command and control structures, which predated those in its neighbourhood and were far more efficient, scientific and transparent."
But it was Musharraf himself who had confirmed that Pakistan had indulged in proliferation and arrested Dr Khan in this connection creating the impression that the doctor was serving the extremists’ interests. And by not transferring power to a civilian authority even after six years of military rule, he himself has been creating the impression that it was his uniform which, was standing as a bulwark between Pakistan’s nuclear assets and the threatening hands of the fundamentalists.
Even earlier when he was asked soon after 9/11 by former US secretary of State Colin Powell whether he was with Washington or against it, he chose an evidently safer option without consulting anybody. Later he justified this on the spot decision of his by scaring the hell out of his nation with his own personal but terribly presumptive opinion that if he had not done so the US would have bombed Pakistan out of existence.
On the face of it, his quick-fire reactions and his tall, but never ever-to-be kept public promises seem to reflect an abrasive trait in the character of a weak-kneed man. But then if one took a deeper look at the way he has been going about his job all these years it would appear as if it is all a part of a deliberate strategy aimed at camouflaging his real agenda, which is to perpetuate his personal power with the political support of the agents of obscurantism going in the garb of the MMA and at the same time remaining on the right side of the ‘civilized’ world.
He seems to be succeeding in the strategy so far because he has never tried to change the mindset of his people and reorder the value system under which they have been living since the Afghan war of the 1980s. But you cannot fool all the people all the time. One day the chickens will certainly come home to roost.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad
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