Musharraf’s legacy

Musharraf was an enigma who displayed a rare sangfroid to clinch peace from the jaws of conflict


Raashid Wali Janjua February 10, 2023
The writer is heading IPRI and a PhD scholar at NUST. He can be reached at rwjanj@hotmail.com

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General Pervez Musharraf’s life and legacy bear a close imprint of one of his retorts to an angry young officer who had accosted him with a question during one of the planned interactions with senior and junior officers in the GHQ auditorium. The officer visibly agitated over USA’s role in Afghanistan had read out a litany of frustrated rhetoric asking why it was necessary for Pakistan to court America. There was a momentary silence as the gaze of the assemblage got riveted on Musharraf for any signs of willies over the difficult question. Musharraf looked upon the officer with a half smiling countenance, which happened when he tried sounding satirical, and remarked, “Well know one thing; you may love or hate USA but you cannot ignore it.” The quip summarised the pragmatism that defined his life’s philosophy; a philosophy of the art of possible by a doer.

Musharraf in many ways was an enigma who despite his soldierly deportment and demeanour could display a rare sangfroid to clinch peace from the jaws of conflict. His famous handshake with Vajpayee was emblematic of this proclivity. In many ways after observing his leadership and command style the closest a piece of literature comes to defining his personality was quote by American writer William Manchester written originally for Douglas MacArthur in his biography i.e “The American Caesar.” The quote went like this, “He was a great thundering paradox of a man, noble and ignoble, inspiring and outrageous, arrogant and shy, the best of men and the worst of men, the most protean, most ridiculous, and most sublime.” Those who have worked with and seen Musharraf close up would surely vouch for the accuracy of the quote in defining the man.

One is reminded of a John Donne’s quote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee” when one hears the rancorous references to the legacy of a usurper who deposed a democratically elected prime minister through a coup. H.L Dietrich reminds us in his inimitable verses, “We are all victims, Anselmo, our destinies are decided by a cosmic roll of the dice, the winds of the stars, the vagrant breezes of fortune that flow from the windmills of the gods.” Sometimes the windmills of the gods send strange things our way. Musharraf was one such “deus ex machina” sent to resolve the sheer ennui that had gripped a predictable governance scene. When and how he arrived on the national scene is a subject of a separate discourse but here it is apposite to recall the mood that was prevalent on his arrival.

In civilian circles and academia there was a muffled debate over the anemic growth and governance problems as common people waited for a proverbial Godot. But when that Godot arrived in the shape of Musharraf the illegality of the coup and the incarceration of the legally appointed COAS General Zia ud Din rankled with all democratic sensibilities. Like all military dictators Musharraf plumped for political legitimacy through political sleight of hand and cooption of political carpet baggers always ready to jump on the bandwagon of an adventurer. His admirers in the young cohort of army officers thought he should have concentrated on performance legitimacy instead of chasing a mirage of political legitimacy.

The above sadly did not come to pass and Musharraf fell victim to the besetting sin afflicting all military rulers i.e seeking of a chimerical legitimacy through political legerdemain instead of ushering in the real change in the lives of the Les Misérables. Regardless of the legality of intervention there was a palpable excitement amongst the people including some dyed in the wool democrats about the change. Many amongst the greenhorn officers shared the excitement of those democrats as it appeared to be the best of times, where to be young was very heaven. Why was this excitement and optimism in the air despite the saturnine vibes of breach of constitution?

The answer might lie in the sprightly spirit and debonair style of a commando COAS. Young officers in army idolise Special Services Group which carries a special appeal for their young adventure loving spirit. The reputation of General Musharraf as a bold and affable commander had enthused the officers corps despite the Kargil setback. Musharraf could rebut the queries of a refractory cohort of young officers about Kargil operation with his characteristically reductionist characterisation of war and arms. I heard him put down the entreaties of a young officer about an inquest in the conduct of Kargil operation in following words, ”Look here, you and me join army for fighting. I am a General so let me grapple with these confusions, you are a Captain so go out and fight.” Despite the pall cast by Kargil General Musharraf enjoyed a charisma that rubbed off well on the rank and file.

The charisma was born out of his preference for sharing the toil and sweat with the soldiers in the field and his predilection for taking stand for his subordinates even at the risk of his own personal loss. His affable nature and candour endeared him to the rank and file. He was original and unorthodox in his command approach. Upon assumption of command as Corps Commander he desired to visit a field formation forthwith. His staff was nonplussed as all major formations were unavailable due to their routine preoccupations. Only an engineer unit was available undergoing annual fitness for war inspection. He decided to visit and straightaway went to the meet troops in training area. On a sand model discussion he got hold of a NCO and discussed his role along with the role of superior formations. When he joined officers in the tea bar his face was lit up with excitement as he felicitated the commanding officer for instilling confidence and operational awareness down to soldiers’ level.

On assumption of command he had gathered all senior officers along with junior officers holding key appointments on staff and command under one roof for a day long discussion where he personally explained all stages of Corps’ operational cycle including each division’s role in detail. “Enemy is not ten feet tall” was his usual refrain was he imbued all ranks with an aggressive spirit and pride in operational role. The whole Corps was perpetually on the hop under his command with interminable series of field exercises. He had ordered the review of all training publications down to brigade level with a proviso that no training note would exceed 12 pages. Anything beyond that was too prolix for soldiering as per his philosophy.

He loved sitting with soldiers and young officers during exercises to discuss nitty-gritty of tactics and leadership tips. To staff officers his advice was, “Neither sit in your offices nor on your files, move swiftly in order to be decisive”. His charisma perhaps led all to believe he could leave a positive legacy in politics, a quest in which he could have succeeded had he trusted his performance instincts instead of seeking political legitimacy.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2023.

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