End of the Tight-Rope Walk

So uncle Sam has spoken.  Musharraf is a good man after all, and the best bet for “democracy” in Pakistan.  This  only days after the U.S. Senate decreed that all future aid to  that country be tied to the General delivering in the “war on terror.” Clearly, what is suggested is that so long as Musharraf be willing to bomb out the Taliban from the Waziristan badlands, democracy in Pakistan need not figure high on  Washington’s agenda.  Oxymoron, moron.

And, after all, in taking such a view, the Bush Presidency is only being consistent with its priorities at home.  Do not forget that   the FBI has just been found to have been massively snooping into the lives of innocent Americans—only the latest piece of news in the career of a Presidency that has systematically curtailed many of the human and democratic rights upon which the land of the free and the brave had been founded somewhile ago. Infact, even as I am writing this I hear behind me the redoubtable Congressman, Murtha, telling Wolf Blitzer that America is ruled now by a  “dictatorship” that no longer recognizes its constitutional obligation to the houses of Congress.

Thus, the bashing up  of the Geo TV offices in Islamabad could hardly seem such an earth-shaking violation of  constitutional protocol. This gauche episode could hardly hold a candle to the CIA’s record in the matter worldwide, or match the finesse of the Wilson/Valerie Palme exposures.  As to the honourable chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan who was given peromptory marching orders by the   President-in-uniform, he might have been expected to be patriot enough to take his medicine constructively in the interest of ensuring Musharraf’s continuance in office—something that the Bush regime holds crucial to the objectives of American imperialism in the region.

Equally impressive is the adult sang froid displayed by the Indian establishment. Gone are the days when  jack-boot  dictatorships would draw   high moral admonishment from the land of Gandhi.  We have since learnt with Nietzsche that morality is the weapon of the weak;  now  that we aspire to Zarathustra, we need to recall that Kautaliya was here long before the German firebrand upstart taught the western world how to touch the pinnacles of amoral power and dominance. Why after all should the events next door in Pakistan cause a flutter in New Delhi when we have managed nicely to shake the hand of the new Army dispensation next door in Bangladesh, and, indeed, when we get along famously with the age-old junta in Myanamar, also next door, leaving that brave Aung San Suchi to fend for herself, like a caged Lady of Shallot. Nor have we had the least problem co-habiting with that twenty first century Nero (as the Supreme Court of India famously called him) in Gujarat who has successfully diminished a whole section of  Gujaratis into ostracized non-citizens.

Having said that, one also recognizes that the seven-year long Musharraf regime has been fascinatingly enigmatic.  While it remains obvious that Musharraf wishes ardently to carry on being both President and Army Chief, legitimated by a rubber-stamping assembly, it is equally obvious that he has practiced a nimbleness both of articulation and political practice that sets him apart from an Ayub Khan, a Yah Yah Khan, or a Zia-ul-Haq.  It is no small credit to, indeed something of an outstanding feature of, his Presidency that the media in Pakistan have been allowed a freedom and forthrightness that has  sometimes seemed to outshine the most reputable Indian counterparts. 

That indisputable fact then raises a clutch of questions:  should this be read as an earnest (to plagiarise the Bard) of Musharraf’s genuine ideological commitment to democracy, or merely as a ploy that he has manipulated to a fault to build credentials that he infact he does not possess?  If the former, then, for example, the attack on the Geo TV station in Islamabad points to palace intrigues that seek to undermine that commitment from within at the behest of forces that read the project of democratizing Pakistan interchangeably with vassalage to America.  If the latter, then is the Geo TV incident the first instance of Presidential manipulation gone awry, invoking unforeseen and hitherto unprecedented street-level resistance on behalf of forces that seek a full democratic future for Pakistan?

Alas, however seemingly contending forces might wish to project the case, the answers are not easy to come by—not yet.  Can Musharraf’s subsequent apology and open public statement that the attack is conspiratorial in nature be simply put aside?  Or are we infact looking at a resourceful protagonist whose desire to forge a progressive and democratic state invites to be seen as everywhere fraught with murderous pitfalls?  Do we read his reluctance to go hammer and tongs at the badland bandits and other terror camps as evidence of his complicity with medieval reactionaries and religious bigots, or should we school ourselves to see that unless he tight-rope walked he would not  last a day?

And what does his career vis a vis his interests in Kashmir and his equation with India suggest?  Can we simply argue—as some reputed security professionals routinely do—that the man has been taking us for a ride, or is there enough in his record on those two issues to warrant a more charitable interpretation?  What, for instance, do we say about a Pakistani President who boldly jettisons any claim on Kashmir as well as the long-held sanctity of the decrepit U.N.Resolutions?  What may he expect to gain from that course of action from the Mullahs and the Feudals whose clout he seems neither wholly to endorse nor wholly to extricate himself from?  So that he neither openly owns up to the justice, if any, of the proxy war, nor rejects it out of hand.

Then there is the Musharraf who both seeks to keep the American state on his side, and who also does not shy from making swaggering “nationalist” noises as the imperialist pressure on him increases to an unacceptable squeeze.  Or, consider that other larger issue:  it might be true that for now the Americans do not in the slightest wish to see a return of the mass-based political parties to the active political terrain in Pakistan (so much for their interest in “democracy”), and, to that extent, place no obligation on Musharraf to seek such a course;  but, does that also not raise more than a question about the kind of “democratic” future Musharraf has in mind for Pakistan?  How do you secularise and democratize Pakistan if you happily incorporate the Mullahs into your support base, and simultaneously keep in banishment those that have a hold among the masses?  And how long do you expect to string along an articulate civil society to legitimize your democratic credentials without actually letting their agenda become the national agenda?

The relevance of that last conundrum has indeed taken on what many in Pakistan at this very moment regard a crisis-ridden finality.  Be it the lawyers, the journalists, the human rights personnel, or national icons—if not yet potent political adversaries—like Imran Khan, all seem to think that Musharraf’s tight-rope walk has finally come to be too precariously slippery for him to tip-toe through.  Naturally, what transpires in the days to come will either return Pakistan to a full-scale dictatorship, if not under Musharraf then under some still more congenial military man of Washington’s choosing, leaving Kashmir yet again hanging in limbo, or—highly unlikely as it must seem now—exorcise the demons that have plagued Pakistan since its hate-filled annunciation, and in so doing, hopefully also enable a similar purge of the demons in India.

Whichever way you look at the matter, few, as of now, would want to be in Musharraf’s shoes.  Beset by murderous cross-purposes, called upon by warring ideological antagonisms, it must be a confusing thing to be Musharraf.  One thing, however seems certain: the tight-rope career of the President-in-uniform may have become wholly untenable in the aftermath of the recent assaults on democratic institutions—the judiciary and the media.  To that extent, one might be excused a small concession to hyperbole:  Musharraf and Pakistan do seem on the threshold of a decisive moment; and depending on which way that moment turns, very many other features of sub-continental life to begin with, and world events subsequently must also be deemed set to change.  Should Pakistan respond to the charge in the cities with a clampdown, the victory bugle could sound from Waziristan; but should it turn out otherwise, Uncle Sam might have a hard time reconciling to a real-enough democratic transformation in ally land that could then readjust coordinates to American policy in West Asia and the Middle-East. And opposed as it would openly be to “terrorism”, such a transformation would simultaneously make Pakistani territory less amenable to CIA and Pentagon cake-walks.    And, god forbid, a new Pakistan, a new India and a willing enough China/Russia twosome might come together in newer ways to cap the U.S. loss of the Middle East and West Asia with the loss of these parts as well.

Can Musharraf sieze the moment to declare himself the Simon Bolivar of South Asia?  There are many who would stand by him.  Perhaps even Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia—smart men as they are—might have a change of heart.  And, knowing India, the rest would not take long to follow.

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