Absurdly strange

January 22, 2008

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READERS will recall my point that Pakistan is a most unique country and its rulers (for most of its life army dictators) a most unique lot. I did not say unique people, for they are a species apart from the normal humanoid. I have given many examples of their uniqueness in these pages; there are many more as you shall presently see. Some incomparable.

I might also add that in the days when I was writing weekly articles for two newspapers people used to ask how I could write on two different subjects in the same week. My answer: the very uniqueness of the Fatherland guarantees that there is never a dull day; that so many outlandish things happen every single day that leave alone two pieces a week, if I had a stenographer I could dictate a 1000-word piece every few hours!

Well, lo and behold! Just as I finished writing last week about the scandalous hosing down of the crime scene where Ms Benazir Bhutto was so abominably assassinated, came the news that the vehicle in which she was travelling and into which she had fallen down dead after being shot in the head had been similarly sanitised of all marks and washed clean (Scotland Yard, eat your heart out).

Shift your attention now, reader, to TV pictures and reports about the scenes of the more recent Lahore and Karachi and Peshawar bombings, and you will recall that the crime scenes were cordoned off, and investigators, such as they are, were inspecting the debris looking for clues for days on end. We must continue asking the question, as should Scotland Yard: if the junta had nothing to hide, why were the possible clues to Benazir’s murder obliterated so hurriedly, indeed of that earlier attempt on her life in Karachi in which upwards of 150 people were killed and more than 550 injured, too? Who gave the orders? Who was responsible? As we well know, the buck simply has to stop somewhere.

Well, lo and behold again! Another gem, this time priceless, which whilst I wrote about it last week, is critical that we examine it in detail. It is heart-stoppingly critical actually, and says far, far more than the author of the remark thought we could, or should discern from it. (For we are very stupid “bloody civilians”, are we not?). Neither is it merely a matter of one’s mouth running away with one as has happened in the retired general’s case alarmingly often, his this remark is most perilous for the country.

When Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek recently asked Musharraf who was the best “person to fight this war against the jihadis”, the retired general said: “The United States thought Benazir was the right person to fight terrorists. Who is the best person to fight? You need three qualities today if you want to fight the extremists and the terrorists. Number one, you must have the military with you. Well, she was very unpopular with the military. Very unpopular.

“Number two, you shouldn’t be seen by the entire religious lobby to be alien —– a non-religious person. The third element: don’t be seen as an extension of the United States. Now I am branded as an extension, but not to the extent she was. Pakistanis know that I can be tough. I can speak out against Hillary Clinton. I can speak out against anyone. These are the elements. You be the judge.”

First things first, then. Why in God’s name did Musharraf say “the United States thought …”. Is it the case that his heart was not in reconciliation with Benazir; that the only reason he let her come back was because the US leaned rather heavily on him? More importantly, how did Musharraf come to the conclusion that Benazir was “very unpopular” with the “military”? Did the chief of air staff tell him that on behalf of his service and the chief of naval staff on behalf of his, after carrying out a poll to determine the popularity or otherwise of Benazir Bhutto? Did he as COAS carry out a poll among the rank and file of the army? (I have said it before, I shall say it again: no one gives a solitary fig for the other two services; it IS the army first, second, and last, so let’s please get off this “military” nonsense).

Indeed, could it not be the case that the People’s Party, whose support comes from the more disadvantaged and poorer sections of our society from which comes the soldiery, is popular among the troops, but is “very unpopular” with the small coterie of self-seeking senior generals who engineer coups d’ etat and take over the government every so often?

If this is the case, did Musharraf as COAS for 10 rather long years, attempt to dispel any misgivings about a politician of note such as Benazir Bhutto among his cohorts? And if he did not, why did he not? For it is not the place of the army to say whether a certain politician is “popular” with it or not. In every civilised country the army is yet another department of the government, no more no less, and takes orders from the elected government of the day. It does not debate the popularity of the elected prime minister among its own ranks!

Be as it may, why in the world was Benazir Bhutto “very unpopular” with the army brass hats? And her father before her, for he was “very unpopular” with the brass hats too? We shall see next week for there is such a lot to say, so much to recall; so much was done to shore up the army’s morale and refurbish and overhaul its materiel immediately after Pakistan was torn asunder in 1971 that many Pakistanis in uniform and on civvie street don’t know about because, simply, they weren’t even born then. It is also the case that successive army dictators have attempted to rewrite this unfortunate country’s history for their own narrow motives. I know, for I was there.

More next week, including a look at the other aspects of Musharraf’s absurd, strange and most unfortunate statement.

P.S. Premonition: Scotland Yard will end up with much (dirty) egg on its face which will take as many decades to wash off as it took gaining its fine reputation.

kshafi1@yahoo.co.uk