In Islamabad's hall of fame

PAKISTAN has exhibited an exceptional degree of political instability ever since the Partition of the subcontinent in August 1947. No elected government has ever completed its term of office. Four generals have ruled as military dictators for half the country's existence. The east wing of Pakistan seceded after the civil war.

By Matein Khalid

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Published: Sat 17 Jul 2004, 10:28 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:58 AM

There have been ethnic revolts in Sind, Baluchistan and the Frontier. Karachi, Pakistan's megapolis on the Arabian Sea, is the South Asian Beirut - a cauldron of political murders and sectarian killings. Pakistan has fought four disastrous wars with India. Pakistani history has witnessed an elected Prime Minister hanged for murder, another shot in an unsolved conspiracy, dismissal of several elected governments, a military President killed with his ruling Janta in a mysterious plane crash, assassinations and coup attempts galore against successive rulers in Islamabad.

All of the above has ensured that every Pakistani leader left office - or was forced out - in disgrace. Even now, while ex-Indian Prime Ministers rank among the most honoured statesmen of New Delhi, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto both live in exile, facing arrest for corruption if they dare return to Pakistan. Yet, Pakistanis feel nostalgia and even occasional pride at their pantheon of past leaders. Jinnah, the brilliant constitutional lawyer from Lincolns Inn who took on the British Empire and the Indian National Congress to carve out a Muslim state in the subcontinent. Liaquat Ali Khan, a UP aristocrat who sacrificed his ancestral estates to opt for Pakistan. Ayub, the Sandhurst Pathan who aligned Pakistan with the West in the Cold War and created the pillars of its economic development. Z. A. Bhutto, the Pakistani Kissinger, a foreign policy genius who forged new ties with China and the Islamic world. General Zia (at least to his many devotees on the Right), the pious soldier who waged Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Yet every Pakistani leader since Mr Jinnah ultimately failed in the quest to create a viable, democratic, stable Muslim state. So what makes General Pervez Musharraf different? Can he stake his claim on history as the greatest leader of Pakistan since Jinnah? What can be the possible criteria to judge greatness in Pakistani politics? Will his legacy endure?

General Musharraf, unlike Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto, has a transformational agenda for Pakistan. Nawaz and Benazir played the power game for its own sake and had neither the vision nor the intellect to kickstart the economy, settle the nation's existential relations with India and implement structural reform. Unlike them, Musharraf rose to the pinnacles of power on his own merit. He was one of the most brilliant strategist, mountain warfare specialist, logistical planners and Corps commanders in the Pakistan Army before he was anointed with its top post. In contrast, Benazir had never held a job until she became Prime Minister and Nawaz Sharif's entry into politics was lubricated by his father's industrial empire and slavish devotion to General Zia. As chief executives of Pakistan, it was no wonder both Benazir and Nawaz were dismal failures. Unlike Musharraf, they just did not have the real world management, strategy and policy-making experience to navigate the tempest of Pakistani politics.

Musharraf has made no secret of his vision for a liberal, tolerant Pakistan - his strategy of 'enlightened moderation' in the Islamic world makes him the Kamal Ataturk of his generation. Musharraf has defanged the extremist sectarian fanatics who had waged a bloody insurrection in Kashmir and almost taken Pakistan to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Banning the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed enabled him to avert sectarian civil war in Pakistan, but also triggered a diplomatic rapprochement with India over Kashmir. His peace agreement with Vajpayee alone catapults Musharraf into the ranks of Asia's great statesmen. No other Pakistani leader has had so great an impact on so complex a stage in so short a time. Alone among his predecessors, Musharraf saved Pakistan from imminent ruin after he did a policy U-turn on the Taleban, Afghanistan and jihadi terrorism. He had the brains and wisdom to conclude that Pakistan would be branded a 'terrorist state' by Washington after 9/11 if he did not acquiesce in the White House and Pentagon blueprint to vanquish the Taleban. Musharraf is a pragmatist, not an ideological holy warrior like Zia or a power-crazed megalomaniac like Z. A. Bhutto. The commando general who plotted Kargil did not hesitate to extend an olive branch to the BJP over Kashmir when the strategic interests of Pakistan dictated peace, not confrontation, with India.

The civilian government that mismanaged Pakistan in the 1990s accumulated a $35 billion foreign debt and turned Islamabad into a pariah state in the international capital markets. Though not blessed with a billionaire Daddy or Oxford-Harvard degree like his predecessors, General Musharraf has proven the most successful economic strategist and policy-maker in the history of Pakistan. The nation's debt was rescheduled, its banking system was reformed, its economy was restructured with help from the IMF, the World Bank and the US Treasury.

Since Musharraf seized power in the October 1999 coup, Pakistan has $11 billion in central bank reserves, the stock market has quadrupled, the black market for the rupee has disappeared and the 'peace dividends' with India galvanised the economy.

Musharraf has forged a new alliance with the United States, cracked down on the extremist Jihadis who almost provoked war with India over Kashmir, declared open war against the Al Qaeda and Taleban in the tribal areas, given the West a stake in the survival of his regime, articulated a new liberal and moderate credo for the Islamic world, condemned archaic social customs such as honour killings or bonded labour, and above all, resurrected Pakistan's economy. These are tangible achievements, which will shape the future of South Asia for generations yet unborn. Unquestionably yes, Pervez Musharraf is the greatest leader in the history of Pakistan.

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