The Reluctant Coup Maker

From the BOARD of EDITORIAL ADVISORS, Ms NASIM ZEHRA looks at the man who reluctantly overthrew a despotic regime

He was never known to have lobbied for his Chief Of Army Staff position. Neither directly on the home-front nor via Washington. Much less advocated a coup against a civilian government. In October 1998 he merely benefited from the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's decision to fire the serving Chief of Army Staff General Jehangir Karamat. In October 1999 given the additional charge of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff by the former Prime Minister, the General took over Pakistan's command following Nawaz Sharif's suicidal move to remove him.

Musharraf, the military commander showed no signs of militating towards becoming the proverbial 'man on the horseback.' Not because the General was unaware or unconcerned of Pakistan beyond the armed forces. Essentially, General Musharraf is a straight player and a trusting man, especially as was clear in his interaction with Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf's late 1998 encounter with a group of journalists was a revealing one.

After being inducted into the COAS's slot General Parvez Musharraf chose to host an Iftari dinner for journalists, in some detail he shared his institution's reading of Pakistan's problems. 'It is a ship with many holes and if the Chief Executive asks for the institution's help obviously I will not stand on the side instead of helping to block the holes in the ship,' he had said explaining why he agreed to the army's involvement in WAPDA. He however emphasized that he would involve the army in no such task that would undermine the army as an institution.

A commando in the elite Special Services Group Musharraf fought the 1965 and the 1971 wars with India. Musharraf is a soldier's soldier, a no nonsense man and a widely respected general. From his learning and practice of the art of military leadership and military engagement circumstances have parachuted him into the world of national leadership. Even if for a limited period. How will he perform the task without letting the army's professionalism get negatively affected will depend on him and on the people around him.

Musharraf had then clearly stayed away from the political situation as journalists had queried about the ability of the present system's ability to 'deliver' given Pakistan's major problems. His response to a question related to constitutional change was unambiguous. This relates to constitutional changes, an issue which only the country's political leadership can address, he had definitively said. He was straight and honest recalling that when he had taken over as the COAS people around me held different views about Nawaz Sharif 's relations with the army leadership. Musharraf said he had then directly taken up the issue with Nawaz Sharif. His conclusion about the Prime Minister was that he was not into any double-play with the army and that he was sincere about setting things right in Pakistan.

What was striking about the general was how he related to the team around him. Not only did he ensure the presence of at least half a dozen of his key lieutenants through his press encounter, he also let them speak. More so let them interrupt him, correct him on occasions. Only a general, secure about his authority would allow such public display of freedom of expression from his men. Musharraf had come across as a secure general; a team player.

Later as Kargil began to unfold and the civilian leadership, having first cleared the operation along the gray-area zones of the LoC, chose to distance itself from it, Musharraf remained focused on the military operation. The withdrawal decision taken by the former Prime Minister in the Governor House in Lahore on the evening of July 3 contradicted with the decision taken on July 2 meeting of the Defence Cabinet Committee, the institutionalized decision-making forum. In personal interviews with key men present in the meeting it was clear that the DCC had agreed to meet on the afternoon of July 5 to collectively decide on the future line on Kargil.

The decision taken at the Governor's House Lahore to rush to Washington was conveyed to a surprised Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz and Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad, Musharraf by the Prime Minister around 9 pm.

Likewise Musharraf too was outside the decision-making loop. Away in the hills for the week-end Musharraf was summoned and arrived at the Islamabad airport around. In the early hours of July 4 as he sent off his Prime Minister, he could merely ask him to get the best deal for Pakistan. The moment of withdrawal however was the opportune moment for Musharraf to stage a coup d'etat, had he so been inclined. In addition to his troops there was a general sense of betrayal and humiliation among a major section of the Pakistanis. However resentful Musharraf, obeyed orders of the constitutional head of the country. He also refrained from letting his institution take to a media war against the civilian government. Musharraf played it straight and honourably.

Subsequently he also ignored the inspired campaign launched against him by a section of the pro-government press. He continued to not play it dirty. Instead he chose to respond by connecting more robustly with his troops addressing them across the country. He stuck to his professional tasks, only once addressing the issue of whether the Prime Minister had not cleared the Kargil operation. When asked by a BBC correspondent in Skardu whether all sections of the government were in agreement about Kargil Musharraf chose to be not be cautious. Undaunted by the rumour mill that warned of Musharraf's dismissal he boldly and clearly declared that everyone knew of the operation including the Prime Minister. He also added that disinformation regarding this issue is being spread. What then followed were ostensible fence-mending efforts by the civilian government towards the military including award-giving ceremonies, the Prime Minister's visits to Skardu and Siachin, his increased inter action with the troops etc. Finally came the important early October decision to make General Musharraf the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Against this backdrop the October 12 drop scene of the Nawaz government has been an eye-opener. Factors of the Sharif brothers naivete and insecurity rather than the overt actions obviously defined the reality of October 12. Having watched the Nawaz-Mushharraf post-Kargil relations from fairly close it had appeared that 'the dust had settled' and mutual concerns had been addressed. The Chief of Army Staff Musharraf had handled his restive troops after the controversial Kargil troops and Nawaz had realized messing with the army would back-fire. Two elements however remained unhappy with Musharraf, the former ISI chief Lt. General Ziauddin and Washington. Musharraf had blocked Ziauddin's rise to the top slot. As chief of the ISI and with his own man heading the Intelligence Bureau , the ambitious Ziauddin and also a three decade old friend of Mussharraf's may have concocted stories of a Musharraf coup for the Prime Minister. Meanwhile for Washington Musharraf was the man who had led their man of peace Nawaz Sharif , astray. To him, even if indirectly, they issued the unprecedented September 20 public warning against engineering change in the Pakistani setup 'through unconstitutional means.'

Anyway now as the all powerful triple position holder , it is encouraging to know that Musharraf is well intentioned and a man of tremendous integrity. Not sufficient however. One man's shoulders, however strong and willing, will naturally not be sufficient for genuine in-house cleaning. In addition to the clarity of tasks and policies, Musharraf's checklist of do's and don'ts has to be an endless one. Irrespective of his khakis he is now the mufti with complete authority. He has no option but to lead by example.

He must walk the talk. Live the austerity, demonstrate the credibility, show the courage and accumulate the competence that is the requirement of the role of a reformer that he has held for himself. Wisdom and not smartness, sincerity and not glib talk , transparency and information control, inclusiveness and not exclusiveness will help to reform. Some hard think on how to radically alter and not just ensure cosmetic change , is required.

Finally away from Musharraf's future tasks the October 12 coup d'etat has established three positives of the Pakistan army. One, that the ethnicity-based analysis of power blocs within the Pakistan army has been proven baseless. Musharraf, a man born in Delhi and not in the Punjab clearly had the support of the entire army leadership because he was a quality general who commands the loyalty and respect of his troops. Indeed the Pakistan army is truly a national institution. Two, that as an institution it still retains its professionalism and its excellence. Even if the army was suspecting some foul play from the political leadership, the fact that it fought back to save the institution in a united and effective manner within a matter of hours is fairly impressive. And that too when its general was suspended in mid air! Coming soon after Kargil, where the army did demonstrate its brilliant military strategy, the Pakistan army has demonstrated that even within a context where the effectiveness of state institutions have been grossly undermined, it stands as an effectively functioning military institution with its command and controls still intact.

While as the country's chief executive Musharraf obviously realizes that there is tremendous expectation from him. It is those who have been hit by rising inflation, unemployment, a deteriorating personal security situation, the businessmen, the angry Sindhis, the complaining Mohajirs, the betrayed Punjabis, the ignored Baluchis and the angry Pathans. Opportunistic power play by civilian and uniformed men and women in power has fragmented people, has ethnicized resentment. There is the pro versus anti-Talibaan divide, the Shia versus the Sunni divide, and Musharraf has no choice but, while uphold law, to build bridges among all these Pakistanis led astray. In Pakistan the divide is not between the secularists versus the religious. It is between the haves and the have-nots, between the power abusers and those moneyless and powerless the state has abandoned, between those who yearn for a political etho which is informed by the spirit of Islam, of Iqbal's Islam, of Quaid-i-Azam's vision of Pakistan and indeed an etho which alone can respond to the challenges that General Musharraf most candidly spelt out in his October 17 address to the nation.