Indian Express, October 5, 2006
There is a reason why heads of state and government avoid writing tell all memoirs until after they are out of office. Writing the whole truth while still at the helm can undermine current policies. Diluting the truth with spin creates a credibility gap that affects the ability of the ruler/writer to negotiate in good faith with the various interlocutors at home and abroad.
General Pervez Musharraf’s recent international trip that took him to Cuba, the United States, Canada, and Britain coincided with the publication of his memoir In the Line of Fire. As a writer for Forbes magazine put it, “When it comes to the spotlight, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf is a pro, and his skills were on display while marketing his memoir from the world’s most public platform last week.” Musharraf talked about his book at a White House press conference. He appeared on many TV shows and got written about in every international newspaper. But were these numerous media appearances a major achievement, as Musharraf’s apologists claim, or have they raised Musharraf’s profile at the expense of how the world perceives the Pakistani nation?
An autobiography is often a book of self-justification. But in justifying his actions and projecting his own image as a great leader, Musharraf’s book has stoked the fire of several controversies about Pakistan. Suddenly, the responsibility of Pakistani scientists in nuclear proliferation and the role of the ubiquitous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have once again become topics of global discourse with the publication of Musharraf’s memoir.
Musharraf’s account portrays him as one man sitting atop a time bomb, the only person preventing the disaster that (according to him) is Pakistan. He decided to forge an alliance with the US in the aftermath of 9/11 even though several generals within the army opposed him. He discovered that the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, Dr. A.Q. Khan, was illicitly selling nuclear weapons technology to third countries. He is giving Pakistan democracy. He is empowering women. He has laid the foundations of a system for Pakistan.
According to In the Line of Fire, Pakistan without Musharraf is a rudderless ship, a state without any functioning institutions. Even the myth of the Pakistan army’s functionality as an institution is shattered. Musharraf saw his personal record after becoming army chief and noticed how it was full of red ink, based on negative and critical reports but these reports from his days as a lieutenant did not prevent him from rising to the rank of a general.
General Musharraf makes no distinction between himself and Pakistan or see himself as someone above the rest of Pakistan. During his rebuttal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the UN General Assembly, Musharraf spoke of how “I have done all I can” to stop Taliban attacks across Pakistan’s border into Afghanistan. Even the Queen of England speaks of herself as “We” because of the harsh egocentricity of the first person singular.
Some of my American friends have pointed out that the omissions in Musharraf’s book are more intriguing than what is included. There is a lot about Kargil, but not a word about the India-Pakistan peace process that preceded and that was undermined by the Kargil misadventure.
There is a line about how any “accomplishments on Kashmir” were due to Kargil but no explanation of what these accomplishments might be. The two assassination attempts on Musharraf are narrated in detail without a word on the military personnel who were charged with involvement in the plots and some of whom have been convicted and condemned to death.
Musharraf also fails to tell us why Pakistan supported Afghanistan’s Taliban regime and attributes the entire failed policy of that era to “wanting to change them (the Taliban) from within.” But more significantly he raises serious questions about Pakistan’s reliability as an ally in the global war against terrorism from the US point of view.
In Chapter 20 of his book titled, One day that changed the World, Musharraf says nothing about joining the war against terrorism on the basis of the immorality of terrorism. According to him, his decision was based on a calculus of Pakistan’s military disadvantage. When Musharraf says “I war-gamed the United States as an adversary,” he seems to be suggesting that if, in his calculation, Pakistan could have fought the US and won, he could have chosen that option. That is hardly a point that would win Pakistan — or Musharraf — any long-term friends in the US.
There are other assertions in Musharraf’s book that generate more heat than light. Musharraf blames Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for the break up of Pakistan in 1971, conveniently ignoring the fact that Pakistan was then under military rule and Bhutto, the elected leader of West Pakistan, was not installed into any position of power until after the Pakistan army surrendered to Indian and Bangladesh forces on December 16, 1971.
The account of the 1999 coup is also inaccurate. Musharraf speaks of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s “coup against the army.” How can the decision by a lawfully elected head of government to replace the chief of the army be described as a coup? If the prime minister was, in Musharraf’s opinion, not lawfully entitled to remove the army chief why could not the matter have been resolved through an appeal to the country’s judiciary?