Brains and Thapar

Who in India really cares what they say on TV anyway?

Karan Thapar is terribly impressed with Pervez Musharraf. “We may not agree with (General Musharraf’s) arguments and often we disapprove of his tough language”, he writes, “but it’s impossible not to admire his courage and be impressed by his performance.” And “you may walk away from a Musharraf encounter put off by his personality but, despite that, you also know you’ve just met a very special man. That’s why Musharraf has fans in India and not just foes.”

Well, at least one Musharraf fan has come out of the closet and declared himself.

Mr Thapar makes two arguments: that General Musharraf is better than Indian politicians because the latter “are not prepared to pit their arguments against challenges.” And second, that Pakistani leaders open themselves to the Indian media but their Indian counterparts do not reciprocate. Therefore, Mr Thapar implies, the Pakistani leaders are better.

(Those of you who want to wipe the coffee off your shirts or keyboards can do so now. Sorry.)

It the rarefied world of TV studios where Mr Thapar resides, a telegenic personality might suffice as a quality for being a good leader. But in the reality of India’s democratic politics and constitutional governance, it is insufficient. And perhaps even irrelevant, for there has hardly been a telegenic prime minister since Rajiv Gandhi, and lot of nice things seem to have happened in India since then. As General Musharraf proves, regardless of his actual record, anyone can defend himself on television—provided he has a nice suit, decent wit and good English. It’s quite another thing to convince, cajole, compromise, threaten and force through a political agenda democratically and constitutionally. Guess why General Musharraf retired?

This is not to say that Indian politicians shouldn’t be more media savvy. They should. But that being articulate on TV and delivering good governance are two very different things. And the comparison with Pakistani political leaders is absurd. For all his failings, the least of which is appearing as text-to-speech converter on television, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is infinitely a better leader than General Pervez Musharraf. At least Dr Singh didn’t silence a rape victim so that his TV interviews would go well.

As for Pakistani leaders being generous in giving interviews to Indian journalists, well, isn’t that what you would do if you and your country were in an international doghouse? Pakistani politicians crave international legitimacy: speaking to the Indian media or getting lobbyists to place op-eds in major US newspapers are attempts to attain it.

Mr Thapar forgets that it was an act of great loftiness—and according to this blog, poor judgement on the part of the organisers—to invite a devious and malicious ex-military dictator to India and give him a soapbox. Let’s not forget that Pakistan has been responsible for a proxy-war against India, a war that is ongoing, and General Musharraf was personally responsible for some of the worst bits of it. Instead of calling for his trial as a war criminal, the Indian media dignified him with a place on the podium. Unfortunately, some, like Mr Thapar, are even his fans.

Oops! We were counting on Musharraf (2)

India’s Pakistan policy was founded on false hopes

Just what did those who substituted hope for policy think? That Pervez Musharraf would enjoy a political longevity that would extend into a long-lasting political legacy? And that Mr Musharraf would remain committed to the ‘peace process’ with India come what may? The wistfulness and the expressions of regret over “lost opportunities” to do deals with him while he was riding high confirm that such was the prevailing in and around the corridors of power in New Delhi.

Now, that it was necessary to deal with a dictator next door was never in question. But building the entire edifice on the basis of the good intentions and longevity of one person was folly. Not least when that person was the meretricious General Musharraf. No, you can’t charitably say that this is a conclusion we can draw from hindsight. It was entirely predictable, and The Acorn has been warning of the risks ever since Atal Bihari Vajpayee made his trip to Islamabad.

The real “lost opportunity” was not settling the Kashmir issue along one of General Musharraf’s numerous formulations of essentially the same idea. The real lost opportunity was failure to use the relatively peaceful environment to strengthen the foundations of the Indian economy through greater investment in infrastructure, education and power. The greater the disparity in the relative power between the two countries, the better equipped India will be to ensure stable relations with Pakistan. And specific to India’s relations with Pakistan, the lost—but one still available—opportunity was to deepen bilateral trade, even if this required unilateral liberalisation on India’s part.

Here’s the balance sheet of the peace process: The situation in Jammu & Kashmir is being compared to the late 1980s, the Pakistani army is firing across the Line of Control and the international border, and that country’s leaders are talking about “aspirations of the Kashmiri people”.

Manmohan Singh, the prime minister who shocked reasonable people by setting up a joint mechanism to fight terrorism with Pakistan, declared from the Red Fort, as if it were a striking new revelation, that if the “issue of terrorism is not addressed, all the good intentions that we have for our two peoples to live in peace and harmony will be negated.” They ran trains between across the border, but among those who used it were terrorists fleeing, to sanctuary in Pakistan.

If you think the situation is bad just imagine if any of those “joint management” formulas or pipelines had already been implemented.

In case of fire, head for the exit

…ideally, in a calm and dignified manner
Fire Exit

You don’t have to go beyond the oft-repeated cliche about Pervez Musharraf—that he is a commando, and doesn’t back down when he’s cornered—to grasp the limits of his political wisdom. Forget politics, this motto does not even make a lot of sense in a broader military context. That his advisers should refer to his commando credentials now, when the politicians have given him possibly the last chance for the most decent exit possible under the circumstances, brings home the enormity of his folly.

If it was a threat to deter Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif from going ahead with the plans to remove him, it is not too credible. General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani is unlikely to want to overtly wade into a political quagmire when he can wield power behind the scene. And if Mr Musharraf does intend to “fight back”, he will be seen the source of additional instability, and hence a liability that no one—neither the army nor the United States—can afford. This may cause him to be removed from the scene.

Messrs Zardari and Sharif have demanded that he seek a vote of confidence in the provincial and national assemblies, failing which impeachment proceedings will be initiated against him. They have not only given him room and time to head for the exit, but also—in their communique—refrained from criticising his foreign policy. What was left in catered to the domestic audience. What was left out should appeal to his personal friends in high places abroad. [Update: Those friends have started disowning him]

Related Posts: Finding a home for Mushie, Graceful exit wounds, the curious incident of the General in the night-time

Graceful exit wounds

The manner of Musharraf’s exit

Most people think Pervez Musharraf is toast. And that, apart from a matter of time, it is a question of how he should go. The American senators who were in Pakistan for last week’s elections have publicly called for a ‘graceful exit’. Well, he’s reportedly building a new home—complete with security bunkers—in Islamabad. “He has already started discussing the exit strategy for himself,” a close friend told the Sunday Telegraph “I think it is now just a matter of days and not months because he would like to make a graceful exit on a high.”

Now the wonderful retired Major General Rashid Qureishi has denied the authenticity of the report, not its content. So it may well be that we will soon see some grace.

It won’t be impossible for Mr Musharraf to hold on to the presidency—but he will have to share power with the politicians and Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani. If he was the sort who could share power he wouldn’t have been in this hole in the first place.

Impeachment—and there’s a lot of political support for this—is not impossible. But as Ali Khan of Washburn University School of Law argues on Jurist, impeachment is for legally elected presidents, not usurpers. “The proper constitutional treatment for usurpers”, Mr Khan writes, is “removal by incarceration”. Since lawyers are a vocal political lobby at the moment, they might insist on meting out the proper constitutional treatment to Mr Musharraf. Such an exit is unlikely to be graceful though.

Kargillian blunder

A neologism and a rap sheet

The editorial board of Lahore’s Daily Times, always the one to tread softly around Musharraf—blaming his ‘advisors’ rather than the man himself—deserves honourable mention today.

Not only does the editorial contain a veritable rap sheet against the man. It has topped it with inventing a new adjective: “Kargillian”, to describe blunders of the kind Musharraf made.

Now, what would have caused the newspaper to be so brave as to rub it in so.

Musharraf’s favourite word

The First Person of Pakistan

Der Spiegel interviewed Musharraf recently. Here is the last question:

SPIEGEL: Are there any circumstances under which you could imagine resigning from your post as president?

Musharraf: Yes.

SPIEGEL: Which?

Musharraf: First of all, there is my own disposition. Following the developments of the last seven or eight months, to resign would be the easiest thing. I like playing golf, bridge and tennis, and I feel like socializing more often than is possible in my position. I like relaxing. Believe me: On the day I think the people, the majority, don’t want me any more and the day I think I have no contribution to make to this country, I will not wait a second. I will leave. [Spiegel Online emphasis added]

So it’s all up to him.