A journey into Musharraf’s mind
An exclusive account of my meeting with General Musharraf this weekend in Dubai where I asked him what the extension given to General Kayani really means for politics.
When I was about to leave for a meeting with former President Musharraf in Dubai my friends warned me it wasn’t a great idea. I had written vociferously against his tenure and what was the point in meeting him when he was even out of power, they reminded me. Yet I wanted to go and meet him. I wanted to see what had changed since the general left power and was it wise to write him off yet. Also was he a bit miffed at the extension given to General Kayani? I wanted to know if there could ever be a future ruler who would enjoy the army’s full support.
I travelled by road to Lahore from Islamabad and from there flew to Dubai. It was my understanding that I would get sometime to rest before the meeting. Yet when I emerged from my room in the hotel for lunch I was told we had to rush immediately to meet the general. I wasn’t in my element but tired and stinking. We rushed downtown where the All Pakistan Muslim League has established its Dubai secretariat.
Musharraf met me and three other journalists in its usual warm manner. He seemed to have acquired some bulk around his waist. After the ice breaking chitchat we brought up serious issues. What were his views on General Kayani’s unprecedented extension? Complete silence. After a few seconds of pondering he said it had its pros and cons. When I requested him to elaborate whether it had more pros or cons he refused to comment further. Later we learned that he had spoken to the COAS and congratulated him.
When asked whether the government would complete its term he said that his hunch was that it would complete its tenure despite the stumbles and tumbles. But he wasn’t too chuffed about the government’s performance. And then of course the talk took a turn and we managed to sneak a peak into his future plans. He wants to return well ahead of the next elections and wants to regain the support of what he has often dubbed in the past as 'the silent majority'. While his plans to return were most welcome, I tried to remind him that there was a reason why the so called silent majority was silent since the very inception of this country. And that the only option was to gain support of the minority that has regularly voted. I think he understood what I meant.
Then came the issue of the organisation of the party. He gladly informed us that a lot of important political leaders were in touch with him and ready to extend their support. A fellow journalist immediately reminded him that some who were in contact with him might be playing a double game. And while the ex-president had difficulty in buying the idea there is no gain-saying that the party he created during his rule was totally antithetical to his worldview. It takes no rocket science to understand the Q-League was there because he was in power. Once out of power he can hardly expect them to think of him rather than the new commander in the GHQ. And if truth be told it was due to this party that he had to make a lot of compromises later on in his political career.
While his emphasis was on party organisation, my request was to think of the message first. Messages show that homework has been done and once ample homework is in place one knows who is the natural ally. Grudgingly, he agreed that there was need for a visionary message and this message could help rebuild his political network.
The problem is that even when he develops a concrete message which essentially has to be liberal and patriotic in nature he will have to fight the narrative which has grown against him. When he left power there four cases had been built against him: the assassination of Bugti, the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the issue of legitimacy and the matter of the Red Mosque operation.
The question of legitimacy which gave birth to the judicial crisis and emergency has finally been resolved as army is no more his constituency and whenever he tries to return to power it will be in strict constitutional way. However the three others are still staring him in his face. Of the three the Red Mosque issue is something that should hardly concern him. Extremists have never been his fan. All he can do is to make certain revelations which may help bring his side of the story to the fore and bring some empathy for him.
The question of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is not that much difficult to manage because her own party appears less than eager to pursue the subject. The real tough one is the death of Nawab Bugti. Balochistan’s alienation is so extreme that the local population is not even satisfied with the positive overtures of the current government.
When I discuss Musharraf with the Baloch leaders they openly ask us to either protect Musharraf or to save the federation. A clear choice between black and white, no grey areas there. Even if it wants to the establishment cannot sacrifice the federation for the sake of one man. Usually such wounds take decades to heal and only intelligent and effectual diplomacy can reduce this period of healing. Without resolving this he cannot even think of coming back to Pakistan. And without his return to the country he can only dream of coming to power.
But having said that I must submit that during the meeting I kept thinking that it would be absolutely foolish to write him off as a done deal and in the mess we are in he is rapidly gaining an opportunity to win some popular support. He can cash this opportunity and he can blow it too. Only time can tell what is in store for him but if he plays his cards well he can make his presence felt in the next elections. He had to go to a function hosted by a prince and we begged leave.