Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The General (or, Why The Film Would Be No Better As A Rerun)

Ex-Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has been on a mission to burnish his image for some time now, after a cooling off period immediately following his ouster in the face of a committed and inspiring "lawyers' movement" (but not only the lawyers' movement) for democracy. A recent interview in Der Spiegel makes clear that his belief in the centrality of the military to Pakistan's national project (and, presumably, of his own centrality to the cause of the nation) is as strong as ever:

Nothing can happen to Pakistan as long as the armed forces are intact and strong. Anyone who wants to weaken and destabilize Pakistan just has to weaken the army and our intelligence service, ISI, and this is what is happening these days.

Classic military self-righteousness from the man who left Pakistan a much bigger mess than he found it; and implicit is the world-view of the Pakistani military as an uber-caste serving as the only reliable guardians/guarantors of the nation. This sort of PR-drive is part of the wider context of the military's offensive against the Taliban in Swat -- whatever one might say about the merits of opposing the Taliban, there can be little doubt that the Pakistani military is using the opportunity to refurbish its tarnished image, to impress upon all Pakistanis who might oppose it that in times of stress, that only the military can save them. Such image-making is par for the course in many countries -- but given the context of Pakistan's hard won electoral freedoms, and the enduring influence of the military-intelligence apparatus(es) on Pakistan's public life; and given, above all, the all-too-frequent tendency of Pakistan's urbane classes toward facile despair with the venality and inefficiencies of civilian politicians (and consequent acceptance of the more systemic corruption of a military regime, especially one clothed in neo-Ataturk garb) -- Pakistan's democrats (or at least those not too busy cheerleading the military, rather than asking how and why three million people need to be displaced to deal with 4,000 militants) ignore this move at their peril. As does an international community that might yet remain wedded to the vision of a Pakistan that was simply "better managed" under Musharraf, and hence that the man might need to be brought back in some way, shape, or form. Pakistan doesn't need authoritarian "management"; it needs more chaotic renewal, more civilian politics (even if corrupt and sordid), and more reform, of the sort which underpin democracies around the world.

[Aside: with respect to Musharraf's claim on how close India and Pakistan were to resolving the Kashmir dispute (uncritically repeated by sections of the Indian English-language media), I remain skeptical: even if Musharraf's proposals were as set forth here, they were apparently made at precisely the time when Musharraf's internal position within Pakistan was weakening beyond repair in the face of the chief justice controversy/lawyer movement, etc., and thus come across as a desperate attempt to shore up his position. But no-one likes to do deals with weak people they think might not be around to guarantee implementation and continued observance, and I suspect India was of the same mind. The notion that "transit routes" were the main stumbling block is a little hard to swallow, especially given that a Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus-service was inaugurated a few years ago, and that India recently eased restrictions on who could be a passenger. None of this is to suggest that India isn't a past master at never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity (its apparent obliviousness to the Kashmiri separatist movement's renunciation of violence last year is a case in point), but simply that Musharraf's claims here need to be taken with a rather large dose of salt.]

1 comment:

Salman said...

Nice post Qalandar. My thoughts exactly. Many in Pakistan get all gung-ho about what they call battle for Pakistan's survival against 10-15K militants, to the point that they accept military action and indeed Armed forces running the country. I have had the standard line "Pakistanis understand only the language of sticks." Age old colonial cliche. Stability is preferred by our urbanites and elites (I know I'm generalizing) over anything else and thus the dictatorships.

"Dr. Awab Alvi who has visited these refugee camps reveals heart-wrenching stories of price gouging, of missing children, of women walking for miles to get to a bus stand, and of pregnant mothers unable to safely make it to Mardan. He is fearful that hunger and starvation will push these IDPs to become enemies of the state."