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Collateral Damage

Pakistan stands adjacent to the ground zero of terrorism, any book by Pervez Musharraf, written well or otherwise, would be an outstanding source for much of the facts since before 9/11, a hot selling item with or without publicity.  With Humayun Gauhar, having about the best English among Pakistani columnists at this time, helping Musharraf write his autobiography, the book should not suffer for want of lucidity and/or expression.  The stating of facts is a different proposition, there are always many sides to a story, once in print its credibility can be called into question depending upon the facts themselves and/or the motivation of the beholder. Given that those coming out second best in the best will have no love lost for him, the autobiography is bound to be extremely controversial.

The Publishers did not leave anything to chance, choreographing the timing and venue of the launch in brilliant fashion.  Such overkill is commercially acceptable given that any Publisher would like to ensure a good return on investment by maximum publicity and the widest distribution in the first few days of the book coming into print. Whetting the appetite of potential buyers of the book is standard business practice in business circles, creating titillating controversy being always part of the game plan, Musharraf’s personality helps by being tailor-made to evoke controversy. His refusal to answer a question about the “US threat to bomb Pakistan” after 9/11 during his Joint Press Conference with US President Bush on the grounds it would infringe the confidentiality agreement with his Publisher prior to the launch was carefully scripted.  This could be worth US$ 10 -15 million or more worth of advertising on prime time world electronic media, about the equivalent of Janet Jackson “accidentally” baring her breasts during the US Super Bowl prior to the launch of her Solo album.

Every person in the world has an inherent freedom of expression, those in positions of power have every right to lay out the facts as they have lived it, it is also a moral responsibility to do so. The important guideline to remember is that the facts must be credible, the timing of launching the book and the possible reaction not only to themselves but to the State.  One has to choose carefully what can be aired (and when), the damage control thereof has to be war-gamed, we cannot afford to give ammunition to our detractors. While Musharraf is a past master in taking calculated risks, the government should have been prepared to deal with a well-orchestrated negative propaganda in the international media, the ensuing “collateral damage” to the national interest should have been assessed.  Within the bounds of the Official Secrets Act and the legal parameters of the two offices Musharraf occupies, the material must have been vetted by the intelligence agencies, due care also taken for legal go – ahead by the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Pakistan Army and from the Ministry of Law. It then becomes their responsibility if anything violates the secrecy and legal parameters of the office of the President and the COAS Pakistan Army, unless off course their advice is ignored. The moral restraint was for Musharraf to exercise, not only as a citizen of Pakistan and a soldier of the Pakistan Army but also as the Head of the State.

According to Wikipedia Encyclopedia “collateral damage” is a military euphemism made popular during the Vietnam War, it has been in use so long it is accepted as a common and proper term with military forces meaning unintentional damage to friendly, neutral and even enemy forces as a result of military action that is not is intended by those causing it. It is generally meant to denote civilian casualties and damage to property that unintentionally came in the line of firing, shelling, bombing, etc.  The term “collateral damage” is now also widely used by writers to describe damage not intended even in matters other than military e.g. while Pervez Musharraf is strongly defending the role of ISI in apprehending and/or killing Al-Qaeda operations, the collection of reward money makes Pakistanis out to be “bounty hunters” whose crass motivation comes out as commercial rather than the higher moral plane for fighting terrorism.

Supporters of Musharraf will see the book as a consolidated vindication of the many controversies that surround his person and Pakistan, his detractors (and that of Pakistan) will raise doubts about his motivation and the facts stated in the book.  Having not read the book one can only hope that the facts printed therein are without colouring or prejudice. We live in out of-the-ordinary circumstances,  both Musharraf and the country (and by extension the Pakistan Army) will now face extraordinary pressure from the world media as each person, country or institution affected by the contents of the books takes up cudgels to defend their credibility as is their right.

Neither our decision-makers nor media handlers took into account (or even have an idea) of what is about to hit us, escalating all the while into a firestorm.  The motivated will try and defame Musharraf and the institutions of the country, to destroy their very existence. The ISI is already under concentric attack! Those whose duty it is to calculate possible collateral damage and damage control thereof do not seem to be ready to meet this extraordinary challenge to our existence.  Failure to assess the possible downside amounts to criminal neglect.  Those who create euphoria (“the feel good”) for our leaders to bask in should have catered for possible erosion of the foundations of the State as well the downside to their four-star client.  The book will sell, it will be at the cost of Musharraf’s future in history and at even greater cost to the State.

Those friends and colleagues of Pervez Musharraf who encouraged him to go into print also did not take into account the “collateral damage” to the State and its institutions, particularly the Pakistan Army and the ISI.  He was always a target of opportunity for terrorists, he has now made them alongwith himself a target of opportunity for anyone who can speak and write, Musharraf has been put in the crosshairs of the most dangerous weapon in the world, the spoken and written word, character assassination with or without motivation.  This is a vulnerability that Pakistan, the Pakistan Army and the ISI could have done without at this time. One only hopes that motivated advice was not done deliberately to put him on the spot as a “loose cannon”. Is somebody looking to replace him?

What has been done has been done! Instead of relying upon inexperienced and lightweight PR artists it is time for the President’s men to cobble together an “A team” that will limit the “collateral damage” by reacting with logic and facts to each and every criticism that tends to erode Musharraf’s credibility as an individual and our credibility as a nation.  And watch out for your friends, Mr President, sometimes they can be more dangerous than enemies!

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