A hazy vision of peace

By Dr Mubashir Hasan


TODAY the foreign policy and security establishments of Pakistan and India are unable to see the woods for the trees. Most of their time is spent in meticulously maintaining the level of confrontation they inherited from yesteryear. They have not yet begun to fathom the yearnings and vision of peace and normality.

No vision of the future either for the teeming billions or for themselves as rulers has yet been formulated by them. They seem much too embroiled in reacting to what the other does. They take great pains in determining the exact measure of their reaction. It has to be commensurate with the action of the other — bus for bus, train for train, air flight for air flight, visa for visa. This ruling principle of inflicting petty tit-for-tat in the conduct of relations between the two countries squarely stands in the way of evolving a vision of peace.

I remember the day in 2000 arguing with Pakistan’s minister of interior my plea to permit a delegation of Pakistanis to cross the border at Wagah on foot to attend a convention in India. He was a senior civil service officer acting as a minister following the dismissal of an elected government. The argument that India would allow our entry made no impression on him. For him the Indian side allowing Pakistanis was not enough to allow the Pakistanis to go. He said only when the Indian government allows the Indians to cross at Attari, he would allow the Pakistanis to cross the Wagah.

Consider things more recent. Last January, an Indian peace activist discovered that a member of parliament of any Saarc country does not need a visa to enter the territory of any other member country. All that she or he needed was a sticker stamped on the passport declaring that the holder was a member of parliament. Peace activists in both countries welcomed the discovery and made plans to receive delegations from the other side.

A delegation of members of the Indian parliament was scheduled to come to Pakistan. The visit was to be followed by a visit of the members of Pakistani parliament to India. Months passed, the arrival of the delegation from India continued to be delayed. Some concluded that the government of India was in the way. The Pakistani delegation decided not to wait for the Indians to come first, and pressed on. The government of Pakistan remained neutral — neither encouraging nor discouraging the visit.

When only a few days were left for the Pakistani delegation to leave for India, a section of the Indian hosts urged the Pakistanis to postpone the visit for a while. They did not want the visit to be cancelled, but only delayed. It was presumed that the advice originated in their government. Since, the dates had already been changed, not once but twice, the Pakistanis could not afford to change it for a third time and decided to go ahead with their private peace offensive.

Islamabad was not to be left behind. As Pakistanis were about to leave for India they were asked by their government to postpone the visit. Presumably the underlying idea was that if Pakistan would stop Pakistani MPs going to India at the request of India, then India would also stop the Indian MPs coming to Pakistan at Pakistan’s request. Apparently, the two governments were agreed on discouraging the members of the two parliaments to be a party, in any independent way, to contribute to the process of peace making. The domain of the governments, meticulously, to regulate their relations could not be allowed to be disturbed by non-government actors. That is why there is such contempt for tracks 2 and 3 in government quarters.

The visit of the Pakistani parliamentarians from May 8 to May 15 turned out to be a roaring success. They discovered a huge peace constituency in India. All important political parties, barring the ruling coalition, warmly welcomed the visitors. The Indian media gave fantastic coverage. However, a high official of the government of Pakistan denigrated the visit as the government at Delhi and the ruling coalition had remained aloof.

Following the highly successful visit of the Pakistani MPs to India, a group of peace-promoting Indian parliamentarians braced for a visit to Pakistan. The group included members from all important political parties including the BJP. Pakistanis made elaborate arrangements for the reception of the Indian visitors at Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. The estimated cost of the arrangements of over Rs 800,000 proved to be no problem. Large and small donations in the form of cash and picking up the bills came in generously. The hotel chain that housed the guests heavily discounted its rates.

Opposition parties, NGOs and private sector promised all help in meeting and entertaining the visitors. The response from the government and other political parties and leaders was also generous. The leader of the ruling coalition in Sindh promised a dinner for the visiting MPs. The chief minister Punjab promised to host a dinner himself or request the Speaker of Punjab Assembly to entertain the visitors. At Islamabad, the Chairman of the Senate and the leader of the PML(Q) volunteered to entertain the Indian delegation at a dinner.

On the morning of the departure of the Indians from Delhi, the MPs of the BJP pulled out of the delegation although they had attended the press conference the evening before. It was a blow in the wrong direction. As the visit of the MPs (June 17 to 25), progressed fabulously, the tit-for-tat reaction from the side of the Pakistani establishment emerged on the delegation’s last day in Lahore. Neither the invitation from the Punjab chief minister nor from the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly materialised. A volley of angry besieging telephonic exchanges between Lahore and Islamabad and within Islamabad revived the invitation. The dinner given by the speaker was attended by many ministers and legislators.

At Islamabad, the leader of the Muslim League (Q) who was to host a dinner in honour of the Indian MPs left Pakistan without leaving instructions as to who would officiate in his place. The fate of the dinner hung in balance. However, some Pakistani legislators of ML(Q) were successful in persuading their vice-president to host the dinner. Lo and behold, the printed and issued invitation was cancelled by phone on the day of the dinner by the vice-president.

In the end ML(Q) legislators had to fulfil the obligation undertaken by their leaders. Furthermore, the Sindhi chairman of the Senate, who was also acting as President of Pakistan in those days, as well as the chairman of the ruling coalition in Sindh, stood their ground and refused to be a party to the pettiness of the establishment.

In the face of the overwhelming wish of the people to cross the border and visit the other side and of the media of both the countries to freely perform its function, the establishments seem to be at a loss what to do. They do not know how to cope with the rising pressure of the people and their elected representatives.

While a large, powerful delegation of Indian parliamentarians and senior media persons has made it, the officials are not yet ready to let go on their hold on somewhat weaker entities. When a high official of the government of Pakistan learnt that the MPs could cross the border without obtaining a visa, his surprise was immense. “My God, Dr Sahib, the entire Pakistani parliament would be on its way to India”, he exclaimed. As of now, members of Pakistan parliament are unable to get the sticker stamped on their passports which will allow them to cross from one border of a Saarc country into another. But this shall not last.

If only peace lovers would continue to mobilize the people on both sides of the border, the government shall have to yield. They have no other option.

As youth talk of ending conflict

By Aqil Shah


A MOTLEY group of some 40 South Asian journalists, academics, parliamentarians and NGO representatives recently congregated at the Wilton Park Conference centre, a renovated 16th century English country house in West Sussex, for the Annual South Asia Forum on Strategies of Conflict Prevention and Reduction.

A breath of fresh air for many of us accustomed to the usual Islamabad-Delhi suspects in such forums was the presence of two Kashmiri Muslims from across the LoC — a prominent journalist from the daily Indian Express and a lawyer now based at Berkeley University. Their perceptions of the unending violence in Kashmir was an eye opener for many fed on state propaganda.

The four-day forum covered a wide array of formal and informal discussions; theoretical models on the causes of international conflict, their prevention and management were mixed with lessons from experience of post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan and the conflict in Northern Ireland. In parallel working groups, participants explored strategies to prevent conflict, the role of non-state actors and international and regional organizations.

Besides, Wilton Park’s serene isolation provided an ideal locale for a curious look into recent developments in the subcontinent. One could not resist the temptation of nudging the Indians on the real reasons behind Prime Minister Vajpayee’s “final and decisive” attempt to seek friendship. Not the least because it came against the backdrop of one of the heaviest military mobilizations in the recent past that could culminate into a bilateral conflict. In a post 9/11 world, when India had isolated Pakistan by convincing the international community that the militancy in Kashmir was no different from other forms of terrorism, why did Vajpayee decide to go out on a limb?

The typical answer: the Prime Minister’s desire to go down in history as the leader who buried the hatchet. Unconvinced by the logic of the “Vajpayee wants the noble peace prize” theory, many of us wondered whether the grand old political master was up to more than creating a lasting legacy. Apparently, yes.

Kargil and the attack on the Indian parliament still evokes nightmares and Musharraf’s ‘Kargil can happen again’ warning did not help either but the Indian establishment now feels that hanging someone for the crimes of the others can be counter-productive. Besides, by consistently refusing to talk to Musharraf, New Delhi has irked many in the international community including Washington.

And as much as Washington’s preventive diplomacy has now become the norm in the region, any talk of the not-so-invisible American hand still produces instant denials from the Indian side. But while New Delhi hates to admit it, the fact remains that General Musharraf had agreed to turn off the infiltration tap back only after reassurances from the Americans that Washington will deliver India on dialogue. It did not happen overnight but intense, behind-the-door American efforts were an important catalyst in bringing the two sides closer to the negotiating table.

Surely, American pressure alone or Vajpayee’s peace moves do not constitute the basis for a viable peace process. My Indian friends assure me there are other institutional and structural factors at play. Since the opening of the Indian economy in 1991, the dynamics of market liberalism have slowly pushed the goal of achieving a robust economy to the top of the national priority ladder, come Congress or BJP. Besides, India’s global ambitions are likely to come to a naught unless regional irritants are weeded out.

The conflict with Pakistan, or China for that matter, bogs India down. Thus it is time to break out of the vicious cycle of cold-again, hot-again regional conflicts. The Indian government’s “mature” reaction to last month’s attacks on the Indian army camp in Kashmir, say Indian analysts, is one indication that New Delhi is serious about giving peace a real chance.

Was Delhi’s red carpet reception to Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the latest rage on the subcontinental peace circuit, also inspired by this policy shift? Some say the bonhomie was facilitated no less by one fundamentalist’s affinity with another. Moreover, the Indian government believes that the Maulana has been quite pragmatic in his stance towards India even in the past and since he enjoys the support of a considerable political constituency inside Pakistan, there is no harm in talking to him. Besides, if you can’t reach the generals directly, you are better off testing the waters with their most trusted ally.

Talk of the Pakistan military invariably brought us all to the ‘with or without’ quandary. Can there be any viable peace between the two sides with the generals holding sway over political and civil affairs in Pakistan? Or without them? The Indians say they understand that without the army’s involvement in any dialogue, it will remain inconclusive. But there are also legitimate fears that the army is likely to be the ghost at the banquet. What does all this mean?

Pragmatism dictates that you engage whoever is in power but also included must be the civil and democratic forces that are inherently pro-peace. What about hardliners in India? Talking to them alone, or the Pakistan army, will only reinforce the dangerous perception that they are the only parties with the competence to sue for peace. As the beneficiaries of conflict retain the ability to scuttle dialogue whenever it suits their interests, peace will remain ever more distant.

As we discussed these contentious issues, the need to put up a strong face before the “enemy” was also palpable at times. It was no surprise that most of us came wrapped in national flags. Some were even quick to remind their compatriots of the irrelevance of “liberal” ideas before the “national” cause. No less intriguing, however, was the lack of group ‘shaming and blaming’ over the K word.

Perhaps the presence of Kashmiris made many of us sensitive to the customary condescension Indians and Pakistanis display when they discuss this thorny issue. But there was much more to it. The fact that most of the participants belonged to the post-1971 generation of Indians and Pakistanis must count for something. They have not personally witnessed the horrors of partition or the India-Pakistan wars.

Unencumbered by the burden of the bitter past, they are optimistic that they can break through the psychological and political barriers erected over fifty yeas of conflict. For them, the ‘other side’ is not the source of all evil. They realize that the bitterness of the past need not ruin the prospects of better relations in the future. Put simply, the young generation is forward-looking, less suspicious of the “enemy” and more willing to break the deadlock.

This is not to say that the new generation is a homogeneous social group essentially wedded to the idea of peace. Widespread differences in upbringing, education, social mobility, and regional and ethnic identities separate them to a great degree from peers even in their own countries. Besides, they may also have internalized the hostile perceptions of the older generation.

A majority of this generation is also exposed mainly to state-produced texts which typically incite hostility and intolerance. The rising tide of religious and sectarian extremism in both countries is another countervailing factor. The young political cadre of right-wing parties in Pakistan and the pro-BJP/RSS youth in India stand in sharp contrast to the presumably pro-peace sections of the youth. Cooptation through recruitment in the large civil and military bureaucracies can also blunt the potential influence of leaders in other non-state professions.

Only time will tell whether the professional youth of today can make a difference when it is their turn to shape policy. One can only hope that more democracy, economic reforms, greater press freedoms and the privatization of electronic media in the region will allow more pluralism and tolerance in the future, opening the doors for a sustained regional peace process. In the meantime, more contacts and interaction cannot hurt.

While external facilitation can often raise suspicions about ‘hidden agendas’, the Wilton Park type forums can play crucial role to enable younger South Asians see beyond stereotypes and forge meaningful cross-border links. In the context of perennially hostile India Pakistan relations, even such small incremental steps are big.

Save the history project

ONE deplorable, and certainly undemocratic, trait of our national and provincial governments is that each successive dispensation hastens to undo the favourite plan or project of its predecessor, suspecting in it hidden evils attributed to some selfish political motive of the originators.

Seldom is the yardstick of merit employed. I can imagine the PPP and the PML(N) looking forward to coming into power and folding up the devolution plan just because it was started by General Pervez Musharraf. Since 1988 they have been doing this to each other too.

Without further ado I shall come to the subject of this piece, i.e. the aborted project to get an authoritative history of Pakistan written. Poring over old papers I came across a letter I had written in November 1998 to Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, at that time Culture Minister in Mian Nawaz Sharif’s second coming, which gives the history of this history. Except for minor editing I am reproducing it here. It is a classic example of sacrificing scholarship at the altar of petty politics.

“Sheikh Sahib,” I wrote, “What I want to place before you concerns learning and culture, with the hope that you will rescue the matter from neglect and oblivion and accord it the place it deserves in the activities of the government. I am sure you know that in the National Institute of Historical & Cultural research, a comprehensive history of Pakistan was being compiled under the guidance and leadership of Dr Kaneez Yusuf, former VC of Quaid-i-Azam University. Before work on it was stopped by Acting Culture Minister Mushahid Husain, and you confirmed that action without examining its merits, it was making steady progress.

“However, since Dr Kaneez Yusuf bears the label of the PPP, the momentous project was shelved just to get rid of her. (Cutting the nose to spite the face?) The desired ouster of Dr Kaneez Yusuf was understandable because our politics cares only to glorify or degrade names and faces, irrespective of the bad or good work they are doing. The Doctor had to be relieved of her assignment, and that was done. But what was the sense in dropping the project when so much valuable work had already been completed? In any civilised country this corpus of laborious effort and painstaking research would have been valued as a treasure because writing the history of a country is no joke.

“Many scholars have written the history of Pakistan, but no government in Pakistan has sponsored a complete and comprehensive history which should reflect both the objective truth and the ideals and aspirations of the people of a country founded for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Every state in the world that has remained subjugated to a colonial power has had its history written by its own scholars, except Pakistan. So, it’s a kind of record, but, you will agree, Sheikh Sahib, it’s nothing to be proud of.

“Some time ago Mr Bhabani Sen Gupta was in Islamabad in connection with the informal talks between the intellectuals of India and Pakistan to improve mutual relations. Mr Gupta is an eminent historian. He told some of our history professors that India had its history written, in ten huge volumes, 25 years ago, and asked if Pakistan had done the same or not. You can imagine how shamefaced our men must have looked at the question. However one of them volunteered the information that work on it was proceeding, which was of course a white lie.

“Before I say anything of the work already done, let me clarify a very important point. I have heard it said, and I’m sure that you and Mushahid husain believe this implicitly, that the project which was originally conceived by Dr Kaneez Yusuf in late ZAB’s time, had been undertaken to glorify him and his People’s Party. Well, both of you will be disappointed to know that there is no such thing in the project. The history ends on the fall of Dhaka in December 1971, and the period of ZAB’s rule is not, repeat not, included in its scope. So what did you two stalwarts of the PML have against it? You can’t even say that ideological supporters of the PPP among historians were commissioned to write on the various phases and periods. Except for a few who declined to contribute chapters, only well-known and highly respected scholars were engaged in the task.

“When the project was arbitrarily shelved, Dr Ahmed Hasan Dani, the most revered among our historians and archaeologists, and Cultural Adviser to your regime, could have been put in charge in place of Dr Kaneez Yusuf, not only to carry on and complete the grand task but also to take a critical look at whatever had been produced so far. That could have been done to remove your doubts, if you had any.

“Historians from all over the country had been assigned various parts of the history. There were to be ten volumes, of which the first was devoted to pre-history, an aspect that is given little importance in this country. And the total work was not to be merely the story of kinds and rulers and their wars and conquests. There were to be other important details too, portraying the life of the people. For instance, stress was laid on the social and economic conditions in the times of the different kings and dynasties, so as to present a full picture of the development of trade and industry, art and culture, architecture and customs, and social, religious and educational institutions. The writers were encouraged to go to original sources instead of relying on published material.

“Two of the ten volumes had been duly completed and were about to go to press when the blow fell. Six others had also been compiled and were being edited, while the last two, up to 1971, were still to be taken up. It was a magnificent effort, whatever had been done, and the work would have been a landmark in the history of scholastics in Pakistan. What a waste of labour, and what impression the various historians must have formed of the government’s treatment of the scholarly project!”

Thereabouts my letter of November 1998 ends. But my appeal doesn’t. Sheikh Rashid is gain minister (of Information this time) and very influential. If he is touched by my words it will be no problem for him to have the project retrieved, even if it has been partially eaten by white ants. The whole project can be put in the capable hands of Dr Mubarak Ali, the eminent historian, because it certainly does not deserve to become the victim of neglect.

A futures market in death

INVESTORS can be so frighteningly on the money in predicting events such as elections that, in theory, setting up a commodity-style market in which participants helped generals anticipate terrorist attacks, coups and turmoil might have harnessed the force of greed for the U.S. good. But a Bush administration plan to do so, one that officials pledged recently to “terminate,” was unbelievably stupid.

Its unsavoury doings could have included putting the government in the business of taking bets on whether the king of Jordan would be assassinated. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton characterized it as “a futures market in death.”

The plan was conceived largely by social scientists at the California Institute of Technology under the supervision of John M. Poindexter, the national security adviser to the elder President Bush and the Reagan administration adviser who engineered the 1980s guns-for-hostages trade known as Iran-Contra.

Last year, he developed another hare-brained programme, dubbed Total Information Awareness. Aimed at countering terrorism by tapping computer databases for personal information on U.S. citizens, the programme’s funding was whacked after lawmakers denounced it for trampling civil liberties.

Poindexter’s dicey record is a big reason why legislators should not take the word of Deputy Defence Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz about the demise of this insane market. Displaying Total Information Unawareness on Tuesday, Wolfowitz claimed he learned about the ploy only that day, from the media. “I share your shock at this kind of programme,” he assured senators. “We’ll find out about it, but it is being terminated.”

One question: Is the administration halting just this scheme or also its lesser-known predecessors? Last Dec. 19, the Pentagon published a notice calling on social scientists to develop market-like mechanisms to predict national security threats _ this as a continuation of its ongoing Electronic Market-Based Decision Support programme.

By itself, this research is morally neutral. It relies on the work of Thomas Bayes, the 18th century English mathematician who believed that social scientists could never predict the future if all they did was debate chalkboard equations in academe; they also must find ways to factor in “street” voices, like those of the marketplace.

Poindexter’s latest project, however, horribly overreached. It would not only have predicted markets but also would have influenced them in repugnant ways, letting terrorists profit from their mayhem.

This project showed above all that, in their obsession with listening to vox populi, social scientists and the policy wonks who funded them grew deaf to ethics and moral responsibility. Soul-searching is in order in the ivy-covered towers. And it’s past time for Poindexter to go.

—Los Angeles Times

The emperor’s old clothes

IT’S just as well that there will be no official celebrations tomorrow. The devastation caused by floods is, of course, a perfectly good reason for shunning ostentation. But one suspects that even if nature had been kinder, there would have been little excuse for flag-waving.

Some may say it has always been thus, and they wouldn’t be completely wrong. Looking back, it certainly isn’t easy to pounce upon an exemplary Independence Day or two, worthy of unequivocal expressions of joy or thanksgiving. It’s easier to recall the absurdities, such as the Zia-era injunction that all citizens should emerge from their homes and, at an appointed hour, burst into the national anthem.

The threat of a nationwide cacophony was averted only because most of the public was prepared to call the dictator’s bluff. It was one of several attempted totalitarian gestures that floundered amid widespread apathy. And to its credit, the Musharraf administration has broadly avoided the grander follies of the previous military regime. In doing so it has exhibited a welcome tendency towards drawing relatively sensible conclusions from the lessons of history.

Not surprisingly, there have also been serious lapses. Such as last year’s referendum, which bore more than a passing resemblance to Ziaul Haq’s thoroughly discredited 1984 effort. And the National Security Council, which Zia talked about but stopped short of setting up. Gen Pervez Musharraf managed to put it together, but appears willing now to use it as a bargaining chip in constitutional negotiations with the opposition.

Speaking of constitutions, it’s worth noting that the 1973 variant has, in one way or another, survived considerably longer than any of its predecessors. It could be claimed, of course, that the 1973 Constitution was effectively buried alive in July 1977 and has never quite recovered from that traumatic experience. Yet its exhumation and resuscitation have consistently been a leading political demand, which is far more than can be said for the 1956 and 1962 documents.

This is not to suggest that it was perfect, but it was good enough to be adopted unanimously by the parliament, reflecting a national consensus — a rarity in Pakistani politics. The approval it gained (in some cases a trifle grudgingly) bears testimony, in part, to the charm that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could turn on when he wanted to. Yet the fact that the disparate opposition found nothing in the document that it strongly disagreed with, testifies also to the legal and political skills of certain members of Bhutto’s first team — including, notably, the present foreign minister’s father.

A widely venerated civil rights lawyer, Mian Mahmud Ali Kasuri proved to be something of a party hopper: he left the National Awami Party to join the Pakistan People’s Party not long before the 1970 elections, and was rewarded with vice-chairmanship of the PPP. Once he realized the direction in which the party was headed, he bailed out - and for a time lent his considerable weight to Asghar Khan’s Tehrik-i-Istiqlal. Joining the retired air marshal’s organization was at one time the favoured form of political suicide among the disenchanted, but Kasuri’s integrity was never in doubt.

Not all of Bhutto’s colleagues during his heady first couple of years in power were of the same calibre, but initially they were able to balance out, if not actually outweigh, the more opportunistic elements. It could therefore be argued that the 25th anniversary of independence in 1972 was one of those rare occasions when there was adequate cause for celebrations. The Simla pact had been concluded, land reforms initiated, and there were NAP-JUI governments in Peshawar and Quetta (with Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s paterfamilias the NWFP chief minister).

In retrospect the occasion may seem less than outstanding, because within a year or so many things began to go horribly wrong. But it was a time of hope. There appeared to be something to look forward to. It turned out to be a mirage, yet it laid claim to a niche in our imaginations. It created the impression that democracy could work — provided the powers-that-be allowed it to function.

Regrettably, Bhutto didn’t. Yet even the darkest days of his regime — after he had surrounded himself more or less exclusively with sycophants and opportunists who massaged his ego and encouraged his arrogance — weren’t quite as vile as what lay ahead. On the other hand, a similar comparison between Musharraf’s rule and the parliamentary facade that preceded it would necessitate a somewhat different conclusion.

That’s not so much an endorsement of his rule as an indictment of what went on between the fateful air crash of August 1988 and the airborne coup of October 1999. And it’s worth remembering that although the primary responsibility for all that went wrong rests on the shoulders of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, throughout that period the armed forces never shrank from throwing around their weight in the political sphere. It is therefore rather mortifying to learn of high-level ISI representation at political negotiations between Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali and the opposition figures. This, among other things, puts paid to the fond notion that military rule has in some way been transcended.

The nature of the regime that he overthrew does little to detract from the enormity of Musharraf’s deed. The military takeover he coordinated from a PIA cockpit was as much a constitutional violation as Zia’s rather less exotic coup in 1977. And, under pressure from the US to reintroduce some form of representative rule, both of them sought to remould the 1973 Constitution. No matter what the courts may say, there can be little justification for such conduct. A million questions may be raised about the democratic credentials of the forces challenging Musharraf’s Legal Framework Order, but it cannot be considered part of the Constitution without parliamentary endorsement.

Therein, evidently, lies the bone of contention between the Jamali government and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal. At the time of writing, negotiations between the two sides appeared to be deadlocked because, whereas the government is willing to concede some points, it wants the LFO to be considered part of the Constitution before any amendments are put forward, the MMA has indicated it may lend its backing in parliament to a depleted LFO provided it is proposed as an amendment.

Neither side can back down without losing face. The MMA seems to be prepared to support Musharraf’s election as a legitimate president provided he discards his chief-of-army-staff cap by October next year (even though, strictly speaking, such a development would be unconstitutional, given that there’s a mandated gap of two years between relinquishing a military post and seeking public office). This is unacceptable to Musharraf — which suggests that he cannot bring himself to trust his primary constituency, the army, any more than he trusts the people.

The general’s stance is being vociferously advocated not by Jamali, but by the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam’s chief, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain — whose very presence in a position of prominence sows serious doubts about the nature of Musharraf’s preferred form of democracy. The Chaudhry and the prime ministerial Mir, who do not seem to be on the best of terms, have, by design or otherwise, been playing bad-cop, good-cop with the MMA on the uniform issue.

The main result has been a morass of confusion. The ample figures at the head of the MMA, who thought they were making headway with the similarly girthed PM, have been taken aback by the slimmer Chaudhry’s insistence that the general’s uniform is a settled issue.

Previous Pakistani rulers too have diverged from the sartorial norm. Z.A. Bhutto, who looked elegant in both regular suits and the awami variety, opted for an improvised form of the Nehru jacket coupled with trousers that had stripes running down the sides — a bandmaster’s uniform that suited none of his acolytes. His daughter opted for a bizarre coatee and was forever adjusting her dupatta, but at least she didn’t expect her ministers to follow suit.

But Musharraf’s fashion dilemma is in many ways unique, and could, decades — and perhaps even centuries — down the line constitute the basis for a cautionary tale.

Mother: Be quick, son — off with your clothes!

Son: But why, Mummy?

Mother: Because they’re soiled, sweetheart.

Son: But I’m comfortable in them, Mummy.

Mother: Never mind. They’re dirt and they have to come off. Haven’t you ever heard the story about The Emperor’s Old Clothes?

Son: You mean The Emperor’s New Clothes...

Mother: No, I don’t... There was an emperor once who refused to take off his old clothes...

Son: Why did he do that, Mum?

Mother: Because he’d grown accustomed to them. He considered himself a power-dresser.

Son: So, who objected? His mother?

Mother: No, son, the people. They wanted him to be just like them. But he said, “I’m not like you. I’m the Emperor...”

Son: So he refused to take off his clothes, Mum?

Mother: Yes, son.

Son: Then what happened to him? Did the people tear off his clothes?

Mother: It’s a long story, love. I’ll tell you some other time. Now come, your bath is ready...

mahirali@journalist.com

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