Another Indian apologist for Musharraf

Will Pakistan’s ‘newly empowered liberal, democratic community’ please stand up?

Over to Prem Shankar Jha. In his op-ed column in Outlook magazine, he explains why Pakistan’s limited acceptance of disaster relief assistance from India is ‘understandable’. He characterises its rather confused response as arising from a tug of war between its old dogmatic quarter and a ‘newly empowered liberal democratic community’. Gen Musharraf, of course, sympathises with the latter but is torn between the two. That, by the way, is the White House line on the Pakistani dictator. It is also wrong. Jha may have missed out on that little business of Gen Musharraf’s comments to the Washington Post reporters. Besides, where is that newly empowered liberal democratic community? Surely, he can’t be referring to the recent municipal elections that the pro-Musharraf candidates won in a landslide.

At first sight Pakistan’s decision to put politics ahead of humanity looks heartless and discouraging. But its reasons are understandable. There’s always been a strong school of thought within Pakistan, fed by the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani from Kashmir, that India’s goal in opening the border between the two Kashmirs is to take the steam out of separatism. That would automatically reinforce the case for a solution based upon the status quo. The last thing adherents to this school want Kashmiris in ‘Azad’ Kashmir to see are Indian choppers dropping life-saving food packets, blankets and medicines to them and air-lifting them to safety. That would destroy, in a single stroke, the preconceptions about ‘Hindu India’ that have sustained hostility in that part of Kashmir towards India. [Outlook]

Jha’s case goes something like this: Musharraf is determined to push for peace with India, but needs to accomodate his establishment hawks. So India should seize on the opportunity and make concessions that will please the hawks. This, by the way, is called the good cop-bad cop routine. The question Jha needs to answer is that if concessions are the price India has to pay to buy peace with Pakistan, then what’s so special about Musharraf?

On the issue of accepting aid, Pakistan now has taken the line that it will accept Indian helicopters on condition that Indian pilots don’t fly them. Given that Pakistan attached no such conditions for American helicopters (who too, by the way, are concerned about jihadi camps), this is clearly a political move — to deflect criticism for not accepting Indian assistance — than one motivated by concern for the quake victims. After decades of feeding its Kashmiris with propaganda about the atrocious Indian security forces, even Gen Musharraf cannot allow that myth to be shattered by Indian choppers dropping food and medicines. For that myth is all that Pakistan has in order to cling to Kashmir. If Musharraf really desired peace, he had a golden opportunity — in the form of a natural disaster — to change perceptions. That he missed, is not an accident, but part of the design.

Tailpiece: Headlines in Pakistan’s newspapers go: India refuses to send copters without pilots. It is to generate this kind of a headline that the Pakistani government played the rather clever trick of asking for the crewless copters. Clever yes, but this is just one more thing the Pakistani military establishment will have to account for when the time comes to take stock of its failure in managing this disaster.

6 thoughts on “Another Indian apologist for Musharraf”

  1. The apologists for Musharraf start with a questionable assumption– that “really” Musharraf is progressive/peace-loving kinda guy, who is hamstrung by a savage and benighted population. This “soft” (and often unacknowledged) bigotry is at the core of many Indian journalistic pronouncements on Pakistan (and has been a convenient way for many strongmen, Mubarak, Musharraf and others, to stave off criticisms related to the stifling of democracy). The thing is that many Indian liberals automatically (and mistakenly) assume that Musharraf’s demographic profile– beardless, fond of his whiskey, etc.– means that he must be more “modern” and “secular” than the stereotypical bearded, devout Muslim. More “modern” he certainly is, but it is a logical error to conflate “modern” with “good.” Specifically, in the context of the sub-continent I have argued elsewhere (contra liberals like M.J. Akbar) that it is precisely the colonized “modern” that served as harbinger to the two-nation theory. Seen this way, Musharraf is a classical Jinnahite (which would be bad enough, but Musharraf additionally lacks the former’s commitment to liberal democratic institutions), and to pin all one’s hopes on him as the “progressive” who is going to save Pakistan (or save the world from Pakistan) represents a mis-reading of history.
    [As an aside, this sort of issue was precisely why I found the whole debate on the Advani comments on Jinnah so frustrating; i.e. the debate was shot through with metaphysical assumptions equating “secular” with “good” and “modern” with “good.” Let’s take just one example: Jinnah was incomparably more secular in almost every way imaginable than Maulana Azad, Mahatma Gandhi, and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan; I know whose agenda I’d rather see advanced.]

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  2. Musharraf accepted the American choppers with their crew because no one in American might have heard his no. Americans need this opportunity to be there for their own reasons too, not just to give aid.

    Today India refused to give its service choppers without Indian crew. It might look like a cold decision, but I think it involves practical concerns like how the Pakistanis will handle an adversary’s crafts, they can guage its limitations and capabilities (Some of them may be fixed with customized equipment), will they even return them back :). But it might not have been a bad idea to give them the civilian choppers which are able to fly in thinner air with heavy loads. Not sure if India owns any of them though.

    But I’m surprised why India is not asking for foreign aid for some essential relief items which cannot be immediately procured domestically. Its own deserve higher priority than its neighbour’s.
    Some interior villages have still not got proper relief. Is it that the Indian Army thinks those areas are dangerous for undefended Army relief units to go to those places? Being close to Line of Control, there is all probability of having Jihadis there. There is always a chance that some jihadi might have escaped the earthquake and can prove dangerous.
    Or is it paying them back for not co-operating during earlier times? But then, Indian Army would not be stupid enough to leave this opportunity to lay a good impression on those people. The bad weather looks like a better explaination.

  3. It is stunning how much so called liberals (not just in India), who on face of it, espouse democracy and secularism are at hand to explain away very dictators action just because the dictator can speak English and wears a suit. Nothing that the General did for Pakistan, even if you ignore his double talk and hi continued support for J&K terrorist activities, qualify as liberal or democratic or secular. He crushes his opponents; he makes political deals with religious political parties, that want to impose Taliban style life on their provinces, to remain in power; and he openly supports jihadi actions that meet his strategic goals. I would think that qualifies him as a dictator, not a liberal secular democrat. But hey, if analysts in US and the White House say so, it has got to be true!

  4. Gen. Muharraf and the Pak establishment have been exposed time and time again in the last two years or so as the proverbial wolves in sheeps’ clothing. What’s more, Musharraf has shown that he cares little about the welfare of his own people, be it this episode or the Mukhtara Mai case, demonstrating a terrible insensitivity.

    The head-in-the-sand attitude of the loony left and their press cohorts in India is not helping anyone – rather they are making fools of themselves. Surely, they cannot admit that they have been hoodwinked by the wily general, could they?

  5. Nitin, thanks for calling out this guy on his apologetic attitude in Musharraf’s defence. I cannot understand why we try to negotiate with people who bring guns to the negotiating table. It’s taking this “tolerance” thing to a whole new level of stupidity. Prem Shankar Jha and his ilk have this paternalistic attitude towards a prodigal Pakistan – they’ll come around with enough love and a sufficiant number of sops. We can ill-afford that luxury. Time to get some back-bone (Manmohan’s been much better than Advani/Vajpayee in this regard) and beat the prodigal into shape, if necessary.

    Umair, very thought-provoking analyses – especially the “secular/modern=good” part.

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