Does this amount to a legacy? Time will tell
The Delhi-born Pakistan dictator Pervez Musharraf, who died in Dubai on Sunday, ran the show in Pakistan for nearly 10 years after he ousted elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999. He remained the Army chief as well as the President of his country for most of his time at the top. It will be remembered that the once powerful leader fell afoul of the Army establishment, and this weakened him in dealing with the civilians, leading to his ouster, disgrace and self- exile. The former supremo had to endure the humiliation of being sentenced to death for torpedoing the Constitution although the judicial order was cancelled within a month of being issued.
Regardless of how Gen. Musharraf is remembered after his death in his complicated country, it is a matter of record that the former commando, who had a swashbuckling leadership style and a modernist impulse in a land riven asunder by Islamist passions, had tried to do more to resolve the Kashmir question by engaging in a prolonged conversation with India’s leaders than arguably any other leader or military chief of Pakistan.
It is widely thought that it was his effort to eventually choose dialogue over unremitting military confrontation with India that turned the Pakistan military establishment off him, in the process emasculating him. This made it hard for Gen. Musharraf to hold the balance in relation to the political parties or the judiciary, which in Pakistan has tended to take its cue from the powerful Army. Of course, there were other important factors too that led to the former general’s unpopularity, such as the raising of suspicion that through design or recklessness he gave inadequate security to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — who was assassinated — upon her return from the United States.
Besides, the organised killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti of Balochistan, and having banished another former PM, Nawaz Sharif, through judicial manipulation, turned the political establishment hostile. At the level of ordinary Pakistanis, Gen. Musharraf’s support to the Americans on the so-called war against terror turned the scales against him. As for bilateral relations with India, Gen. Musharraf’s efforts at peace-making went up in smoke in the end and will probably serve as an example to other leaders of Pakistan, military or civilian, unless there is a drastic makeover in that country. But the former President did engage two Indian PMs — Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh — although he had been the architect of the Kargil conflict.
What has come to be known as the four-point agenda to de-escalate India-Pakistan tension over Kashmir was authored at the Pakistan end under Gen. Musharraf’s leadership. This involved making the LoC “irrelevant”, as Mr Singh used to emphasise, permitting cross-LoC trade and movement of people, and devising ways for self-management of Kashmir without the granting of independence.
This was a heady moment in the troubled India-Pakistan relationship as people-to- people contact gained impressive momentum during Vajpayee’s enure. Eminent citizens and journalists from both sides travelled without hindrance and a cricket series was played after a gap of 15 years. At a gathering hosted in Islamabad at his residence by President Musharraf for a large Indian non-official contingent, consisting of politicians, businessmen, retired senior military officers and journalists, the Pakistani leader smilingly said “Not now!” to a provocative question by an Indian journalist, “When is the next attack coming, general?”
Does this amount to a legacy? Time will tell. But ordinary people on both sides have to be ready for dialogue. Perhaps only then will their leaders and armies fall in line.