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The Unkindest Cut Of All

Declaring “no confidence” in Chief Minister Sindh Arbab Ghulam Rahim, MQM’s Provincial Ministers handed over mass resignations, for good measure their Federal Ministers also resigned from PM Shaukat Aziz’s Cabinet. Everyone and his uncle knows the MQM is posturing and will withdraw their threatened exit from government, the timing of their protest is of some consequence. Synchronising with a well orchestrated western media attack against Musharraf and Pakistan, it gives the perception of their ganging up with forces inimical to Musharraf and Pakistan at worst, and at best being opportunists in taking advantage of the crisis Musharraf and Pakistan face, both internationally and internally.

The Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) has been joined by Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in giving an ultimatum to the President and PM to quit by 31st July, that date has since passed. Realistically speaking there are very little chances of a vote of “no confidence” (against the PM) in the National Assembly (NA) succeeding. Given the circumstances of Pervez Musharraf’s sole ruler-status since 1999, their opposition is more to do with his personality rather any disagreement of consequence on national issues, they have belatedly discovered Musharraf’s illegality after taking the benefits of Parliament for nearly four years without resigning “on principle”. Musharraf has tried both delegation of authority and sharing of power since November 2002, a potent combination he derives, viz (1) from the post of COAS (2) his own personality (3) his penchant for taking important national decisions on his own and (4) for trouble-shooting whenever our politicians need his services as a “referee”.

Public perception being more potent than real fact one can forgive Musharraf for being somewhat surprised at the open letter protest    by   the   18   dignitaries   for   “democracy”.  Like in any democracy there is a Parliament, the Federal and Provincial Cabinets do function but except for NWFP they do not seem to do so quite so independently, His status as the arbiter of last resort and the mass public belief that no decision can be taken and/or implemented without his sanction makes him into what he does not want to be seen as, a dictator. On the other hand the PPP/PML(N) “Charter of Democracy” signed in London reminds one of the ongoing drama in Bangladesh, an indicator of the shifting sands in politics. Two decades ago Gen Ershad shed his uniform in Bangladesh and entered politics full time, he ruled as a civilian President for over 5 years. Begums Khaleda Zia and Hasina Wajed than combined to oust the “dictator” Ershad from power and than fail him in turn. Fifteen years later both are going at each other hammer and tong while wooing him for the next elections.  Whoever he supports will come to power, will the Presidency be his ransom for being the “Queen Maker”?

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has done excellent work if it, had not been selective, Musharraf’s rather benign rule would have easily escaped the label of persecution. There is hope yet, one former Lt Gen has been brought to book for his shenanigans at WAPDA, what about his cousin Maj Gen to whom he favoured enormous tracts of land as Adjutant General, particularly in Morgah? His tenure has been quite benign, a free media has been functioning from the beginning of his rule, and the electronic media has proliferated where previous “democratic” governments flatly refused to give permission.  Media provides accountability, that a military regime subscribed to it is refreshing. One feels much more at ease in writing and speaking freely than one did under the “democratic” political governments. Explicit warnings have certainly been delivered from time to time, they did not emanate from Musharraf. His “more loyal the king” aides can be more vindictive, remember Beckett and what happened to him at the hands of Henry II’s knights when he lamented, “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?

Perhaps the open letter recently signed by distinguished citizens could have been more neutral by mention of in their dispatches, viz (1) the rampant corruption and nepotism seen during our “democratic” period from 1988 to 1999 and (2) with PPP in power PML (N) leaders faced persecution of the worst kind, whenever PML (N) acquired power they reciprocated in kind. Those who were once part of the Musharraf regime do not have the same moral freedom others who signed the letter have. The same thing could have been said in private or else individually, collectively to align themselves with Musharraf’s opponents was neither called for nor expected from these good men who once served Musharraf “loyally”. To quote Shakespeare’s Marc Anthony during his funeral oration describing the ultimate dagger thrust into Julius Ceaser by best friend Brutus, “this was the unkindest cut of all.” Friends who are not really loyal will desert the ship when it is about to sink.  Their timing is usually impeccable, they know when to start distancing themselves. Do Gen Musharraf’s former “loyalists” happen to know something that we don’t? Destiny aside, and with apologies to Mark Twain, the rumors of Musharraf’s imminent departure are greatly exaggerated. To secure their own objectives, the west may light any number of fires under his feet, they need him for the foreseeable future, at least for the next five years!

Most friendships are formed during one’s earlier years, usually without any motivation. As one becomes more affluent and/or powerful, acquaintances proliferate, very few equal the quality of friendships of the early years. Musharraf’s strongest qualities are also a great source of weakness for him. Given known indiscretions and/or ineptitude on the friend’s part, he will very  rarely  turn  away  from a friend,  his   friendship  is  lasting.

Sometimes Pervez Musharraf errs in this, to his own detriment and to that of the State. The principle of good governance enjoins a leader to select the best, even at the cost of loyalty to himself personally as long as the person has integrity and is loyal to the State. The headiness of power must not prevent sifting of sycophants from loyal friends. Most acquaintances have motivation and expectation, as long as you satisfy these or are in a position to do so they remain “loyal”. In matters of State friends with ability and integrity are a great asset, those without such qualities are disasters incarnate when occupying seats of responsibility. The silver lining to some of his former “friends” signing the letter in question is that it will cause Musharraf to look at his associates that more closely, to distinguish friends from opportunists, Maybe he will also show the incompetent and inefficient  the door.

My good friend Kamran Shafi has asked me to comment on the atrocious incident involving Brig (Retd) Mohammad Taj SJ&Bar, my Commanding Officer in 44 Punjab (now 4 Sind) during the 1971 war. Without any intercession on my part, the powers-that-be quickly recognized that immediate and unqualified apologies were mandatory, this was done without any reservations. A higher calling prevents us from castigating the uniform that we once wore with great pride. Brig Taj was satisfied that his self-respect and honour were both redeemed and there was no need for overkill. The brave people who roughed up Brig Taj up had never heard a shot being fired in anger, just imagine what could happen if such people came to power and we did not have someone like Musharraf around to rope them in!. Mark my words, there will be military rule in Pakistan in the future, if some of us who are 60 plus are still around, we will all then collectively miss Musharraf.

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