General Musharraf – Perceptions, Politics and Pakistani Realities

Dear Pakistan:

President Musharraf’s recent ARY interview with Moeed Pirzada and Fawad Chaudhry showed a man in the proverbial hot seat.

The Former Chief of Army Staff, President and yes, Dictator, was asked several uncomfortable questions that have previously been opined, dissected, and analyzed by both international and Pakistani media.

My affiliation-based bias aside, what struck me the most was the high level of honesty and comfort with which he answered each question on the conspiracies and politics in Pakistan that have long surrounded him. The list of controversies was lengthy:

  • The armed rebellion in Baluchistan and the Bugti case
  • The 2007 Emergency Proclamation and resulting treason charges
  • The nation’s relationship with India and Kashmir’s role
  • International pressures from Saudi Arabia and the United States
  • Accusations of playing a double game on the fight against terror
  • Benazir Bhutto’s premature return to Pakistan
  • His departure in 2009 and subsequent 2013 return to Pakistan
  • His frustrated attempt to be a third political force in Pakistan
  • Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan
  • The role of the military in a reform-based democratic set up in Pakistan
  • Imran Khan’s political movement and it’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Pakistan’s blasphemy law and much, much more…

He answered each with his characteristic frankness and without deflecting or shifting the direction of conversation. In comparison to other politicians anywhere in the world, let alone in Pakistan, he was neither offended nor upset by either host’s questions. He was honest, candid, straightforward and in many ways welcomed the hard questions by Moeed Pirzada and Fawad Chaudhry. He set an example of how to stand by one’s principles, admit one’s failures and to implement change from hard lessons learned. With this particular interview, Former President Musharraf revealed himself as a man both seasoned and humbled by experience.

I hope that present and future emerging leaders in Pakistan see him as someone to look up to and emulate.

 

 

Opening Pakistan’s Pandora Box

Dear Pakistan:

PM profile picThe recent flurry in the treason debate around Former President Musharraf did indeed open a Pandora Box…but not quite in the manner legal analysts thought it would.

The Pandora Box that’s opened has let loose those who’ve always supported and appreciated General Musharraf’s time in office, but have been silent out of fear or perhaps even apathy. For years, it was fashionable to blame General Musharraf for all the security, socioeconomic and political issues the elected government could not manage or fix. Without his presence or his voice, the anti-Musharraf rhetoric was exaggerated, hateful and based on untruths.

Today, it seems the common man in Pakistan is waking up to the fact that the “dictatorship” of General Musharraf improved their livelihoods, their opportunities and their futures more than the Government before and after his terms in office and they’re no longer afraid to say it out loud. I’ve listened intently as live callers dialed in to media programs to speak up on how hunger or inflation were not issues during his years or the reason the media today could debate so openly and loudly was because of him. Social media is abuzz with facts and figures of Pakistan’s remarkable, unprecedented and un-replicated movement towards economic development, improvement of women’s and minority rights, and the blossoming of a local government system that put power and control in the hands of the common man, instead of the powerful, but narrow-minded elite. This local government system was also laying the foundation of a new generation of leaders to emerge from the grassroots level…something that is greatly missing in Pakistan and much needed to reshape the long-term political environment in Pakistan. His policies were giving the common man control over their future and destiny.

In a recent program by anchor PJ Mir, live callers continued to express the same sentiment that it is reprehensible the Government is seeking to label General Musharraf a traitor…a former Chief of Army Staff, a man who has fought for the country and did nothing but good for it. Callers saw through the Article 6 trial as one of a personal vendetta and not a quest for justice. Others questioned the inability of the Governments to recreate the security, stability and economic viability of the Musharraf era. They asked if the incorruptible General Musharraf could do it, why haven’t PPP and PML-N been able to do so? The longer this debate continues, the more the people of Pakistan will question the sincerity and effectiveness of the present Government.

In addition, those in positions of influence are starting to speak up about the injustice that General Musharraf is being dragged through. Chaudhary Shujaat, Ayaz Amir and Altaf Hussain are a few of the voices finally taking a principled stand and acknowledging the truth behind the General’s controversial actions, as well all the positive that was achieved and accomplished between 2000 – 2007. I hope more will follow and be true to facts and history.

The trial that the Nawaz Sharif government is bringing against General Musharraf is serving to not only rock the military boat by maligning the institution that stands behind him, but also forcing the nation to wake up and re-examine facts through objective lens and compare Former President Musharraf’s Government to their past and present democratically elected Government…a far more disruptive and powerful Pandora’s Box.

Labeling General Musharraf a traitor is crossing the line

Dear Pakistan:

The treason debate rages on around General Pervez Musharraf, one of the most controversial and captivating figures in Pakistan. So many questions surround him. Why did he come back? Was there a deal? What was he thinking? Does the army still support him? How will his trials and tribulations in Pakistan undermine the military?

So many questions…but politicians in Pakistan forget one thing. The title of General is earned General Pervez Musharrafand it comes with a lifelong affection for those who have served with him and under him. General Musharraf has fought with them, has taught them, mentored them, shared their joys, felt their sorrows, and reveled in their triumphs and victories. He has been their General and much more.

Politicians also forget that a soldier’s love and respect for his General never fades. This love was indisputably evident upon General Musharraf’s return, against all odds, to Pakistan in March of this year. Paramilitary troops stepped in and formed a protective shield around him the minute he set foot on Pakistan’s soil, keeping him safe from the Taliban threat. It was evident during his first few days in Karachi, when the General humbly accommodated a soldier’s shy request to take a picture with him, fulfilling a lifelong hope to meet General Musharraf. It was evident when others couldn’t thank the General enough for remembering their comrades in countlesspak soldiers funeral Facebook and twitter posts condemning the vicious and soulless attacks by the Taliban on military personnel. When Pakistan’s soldiers, labeled by the Taliban as enemies of the state, were ruthlessly attacked, tortured and butchered, the General called out to them from a thousand miles away, feeling their pain and anguish and rallying them to continue protecting his and their beloved Pakistan.

When the confused political elite failed them, turned a blind eye to their sacrifices protecting against external and internal enemies, forgot the strength, comfort and relief they provided when earthquakes and massive floods hit, and labeled Pakistan’s soldiers as traitors for fighting pak soldierwhat these politicians called someone else’s war, General Musharraf’s message came to them loud and clear over the confusing national rhetoric:  they are the custodians of the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan; their cause of Pakistan was worth fighting for and that he stood with the fallen and the victorious.

The soldiers of Pakistan heard his call, alongside the call of their current military leaders, to stay strong. They have patiently and silently borne the disdain, insult and disregard of some political elites towards their martyrs. They have admired General Musharraf’s courage and strength to come back home and fulfill the soldier’s commitment to return “by land, by air, or by sea, even at the peril of his life.” They have patiently borne the General’s will to face and fight all the politically motivated cases brought against him as the Chief of the Pakistan Army and President of Pakistan.

But Dear Pakistan, labeling their beloved General a traitor to Pakistan, the nation for which he, like them, has fought and bled for, may be one too many burden to bear.

Searching for Pakistan’s soul

Earthquake kidsDear Pakistan:

I was catching up on the news today…mostly online, but some TV as well. I’m a news junkie and I usually inhale news reports, op-eds, and quirky stories that elicit a smile, giggle or a warm, fuzzy feeling about the goodness of people. In any tragedy that strikes around the world, stories emerge of everyday people who become heroes in a moment, helping those who are hurt, taking extraordinary measures in times of desperation.

What struck me today was in all the tragedies Pakistan has faced, no such stories of human kindness are reported. I know they happen. I see pictures of bomb blasts, floods, and earthquakes in which ordinary people are helping those who are hurt, carrying them to safety, comforting and caring for them until medical help arrives. I see pictures of men running to the center of tragedy, rushing to help those who’ve survived. These heroes, molded from tragedy, reveal the heart and soul of Pakistan and I wish the media would share their names and at the very least, their stories.

While some may term this is as exploitative, I would argue that such stories can instill a sense of togetherness amongst the different ethnic groups in Pakistan who have yet to find a sane thread of solidarity. While Pakistan’s history has tried to use religion as the binding force, it has clearly failed as Pakistan remains divided along ethnic, linguistic, tribal and religious lines. Such stories bring to light how sympathy, empathy and humanity triumph over differences when tragedy strikes. They can change the conversation within the nation and form bonds that extend beyond politics and geography.

In today’s transparent world of rapid news reporting and social media, these stories also provide insight in to the true soul of Pakistan’s people. Current media and news reports only speak of an angry, demoralized nation affected by terrorists, bombs, gangs, and immature, vicious media and politician fights. The image and conversation portrayed abroad must change to also reflect what is good about it: it’s hospitable and entrepreneurial citizens, its resiliency shaped from many heartbreaking losses, its beauteous countryside, the music, and of course, its food! 🙂

The President Musharraf I know

2013-11-12 14.36.40Dear Pakistan:

When I first met Former President Musharraf in January of 2009, I had no idea how far I would travel under his umbrella and how much I would learn from him and change for the better, both professionally and personally. I lost my father not too long after meeting President Musharraf for the first time and his presence in my life over the last four years has been that of a father figure…comforting, reassuring and stabilizing. Not to say that I didn’t (and sometimes still do) experience what the Office of General Pervez Musharraf has come to refer to as the “Musharraf Effect.” A perfectly composed thought comes out as a jumble of words, a skilled golfer becomes a hacker and a confident, accomplished person turns in to a sweaty ball of nerves. I’m still not sure if he ever realizes the person in front of him is falling apart, as he continues to engage in the even-keeled, down to earth and relatable manner, for which he is well known.

In the many trips he made to the United States to attend a variety of speaking engagements, lectures, and media forums, what became very evident was President Musharraf’s knack for interacting with people from all walks of life with great ease. Whether it’s the aspiring student at a highly reputable university, a political leader or an enthusiastic supporter, he is very comfortable in his skin, has a curiosity for the unknown and the new that underscores his intelligence and mental acuity. What is also very evident is his ability to command the attention of an audience and to sell out events.

The first time I heard him speak was at a 2009 event hosted by World Affairs Council Philadelphia. Speaking to a packed hall, he relayed the issues plaguing Pakistan, its place on the world stage and his hopes and vision for it. It was clear then and it is still the case today, Pakistan is in his blood. Although he enjoys life to the fullest, he eats, sleeps and breathes Pakistan. Quite often, I would see him lost in deep thought as the rest of us conversed around him and I’d often wonder if it was a sense of longing to be back on Pakistan’s soil that kept him so preoccupied.

He is also very quick to defend his nation. I still vividly remember the sold out event hosted by the distinguished 92Y in July 2011, in which President Musharraf sat in conversation with Gideon Rose, the editor of Foreign Affairs, on the future of Pakistan. After the event, we had two words for the Former President, “On Fire.” In small roundtables with relevant opinion makers in Washington DC, he impresses with his clarity of thought, logical, well reasoned and pragmatic answers to the tough questions he faces. On both appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the President displayed his sense of humor, and ability to enjoy a laugh at his own expense. Another instance that comes to mind is his January 2013 live interview with an Indian news anchor. The Former President’s passionate and fiery defense of Pakistan forced the anchor to exit much quicker than the scheduled interview end time. The video went viral in Pakistan within hours and earned him grudging acknowledgement from even his harshest critics…the Pakistani media. Irrespective of who it is, President Musharraf holds his own.

The private side of the Former President took me quite by pleasant surprise. He’s a great story teller, narrating events from his childhood, teen years and early army days with wit, humor and my favorite…a tinge of sarcasm. His retrospective voice often takes a note of “I can’t believe I pulled that off and survived!” He is an out of the box thinker, and is always armed with an amusing, off the cuff remark. Post event or meeting briefs often had me stifling giggles. He is forthright and honest and will never beat around the bush when he has a point to make. He will also rarely back down when he believes he is right. I’ve been a lucky witness to many a debate between himself and Raza Bokhari, international spokesperson to the Former President; debates which have ranged from the complicated state of affairs in Pakistan to something as simple as grammar. Again, there is much hilarity in watching the tennis match of words and ideas between the two. One of my favorite moments of knowing President Musharraf was watching him tweet for the first time. :-D.

He is also acutely aware of people’s behavior around him, highly observant, and thoughtful. One year, in the middle of a jam-packed lecture schedule, he spent an hour thinking through and hand-writing a recommendation for me to submit with my MBA application. On another trip, I recall him turning to me and asking if all the traveling around we were doing was not affecting my studies. With all that was on his mind, he took the time to stop and check-in. He has gently chided me for not wearing a coat when it was cold, scolded me for being a back seat driver and remembered to send me well wishes despite being thousands of miles away.

President Musharraf’s charm lies in that he is as human as he is stately. It has both been a pleasure and an honor to know and work for him for the last few years. My wish for him is that no one and nothing dims his light and his persona for many, many years to come. I know that my world, and for many more like me, has been much better for his presence in it.

Fooling the Mass Public

Dear Pakistan:

In an early October 2013 BBC interview, Hakimullah Mehsud stated “America is one of the two reasons we have to conduct a jihad against Pakistan. The other reason is that Pakistan’s system is un-Islamic, and we want it replaced with an Islamic system.” In videos published post violent attacks that have targeted well-respected army generals, girls armed with weapons of books and a voice, Mullah Fazlullah, Hakimullah Mehsud’s successor, has clearly and categorically stated he will accept nothing but the enforcement of Islamic Sharia of Pakistan…albeit only his personal, violent interpretation of it that implements nothing but the harshest of punishments for even just breathing wrong.

Does this mean that those in power who push and shove peace talks with the Taliban down the throat of Pakistan, against all rhyme and reason, want Pakistan’s constitution replaced with the unreasonable, unimaginable and untruthful interpretation of Islamic Sharia?

The answer is NO.

This is not what any Government of Pakistan wants and neither has the strength nor conviction to convince the Taliban to lay down its arms and enter in to the fold of Pakistan’s society. Frankly, very few of Parliament’s men (and women) would survive under Sharia law, meted out Fazlullah style. Islamabad would be littered with bodies and beheadings.

The men in power are using every tool (media, fear-mongering, public anger and frustration and a confused Muslim identity) to fool the mass public to hide their own inadequacies and inability to act in a functional, productive and effective manner. The elected Government of Pakistan and the opposition are making a mockery of YOU locally, regionally and globally. The primary reason foreign interference has become so necessary in fighting and eliminating militants is because the Nation’s (alleged) leadership over the last five years has failed to stem the tide of militant activity that hurts not just Pakistan’s citizens, but it’s friends, neighbors and frenemies. The Chinese, Ukranians, Lithuanians, British, Americans and yes, even the Indians among many citizens of other nations have felt the violent brunt of Pakistan’s Taliban. Since the Nation’s leadership cannot or will not eliminate the militant threat that is now exported beyond Pakistan’s borders, why would a foreign nation not defend it’s own citizens by bringing the war frontline right back to Pakistan? Why is a Government representing a population of 180 Million people and the 7th largest army kow-towing to a small group of 20,000+ violent men?

That’s right, folks…the Taliban is that small but their national influence, due to a fearful, disingenuous and insincere civilian leadership, is quite large.

Another question citizens of Pakistan must ask is where is talk and action on the other long-standing, crises plaguing Pakistan: energy, joblessness, rampant crime, poverty, poor education systems, lack of development and growth opportunities, hopelessness and the demoralization of the People of Pakistan.

The men in power must be held accountable for failing the nation’s citizens. When leadership acts responsibly, logically and with a sense of honest accountability to the citizens of Pakistan, sound decisions and actions happen. Solutions to crises emerge and are implemented for ultimately your welfare and wellbeing.

My hope is the People of Pakistan will realize that the Nation cannot continue to exist as one if it seeks to stand on the back of fundamental ideology, dishonest politicians and disengaged citizens.

Paper Tigers…Hear me roar?

Dear Pakistan:

For many months now, I confess I’ve trolled social media websites, peeping in on blog posts, news articles, tweets, Facebook posts, videos, images, you name it, I stalked it! I held back on commenting, responding or sharing of what excited or angered me, often at the cost of a bitten lip or several helpings of sweet, carb loaded food and the subsequent pounds I put on.

What did emerge over my several months of self-inflicted misery was the realization that Pakistan has many of what a friend termed “Paper Tigers”; they roar on (e)paper, but barely meow in person. While they know better, they neither have the courage or interest to act on injustices they voice against.

These paper tigers offer a glimmer of a liberal, enlightened and intelligent Pakistan, but these voices get engulfed in a barrage of conspiracy-manic, religious fanatics who twist and turn the outlook of a nation from hopeful to disappointing and from progressive to regressive. When the highly educated, well traveled and much experienced Imran Khan mourns the death of hardened militant Hakimullah Mehsud, for whatever reason, and then terms himself a liberal, I simply wonder what he’s been smoking and how much of it.

It also makes me wonder if Imran Khan represents the true face of where Pakistan, as a society, is heading, or is he creating  ruckus on other issues to distract his fans and voters from the realization that he has not delivered tangible results on a single campaign promise. If it’s the former, God bless Pakistan as there’s not much hope left for a nation when the educated elite responsible for shaping national and domestic policy represent liberal views as supporting and apologizing for militants and extremists. If that’s liberal, then I cringe to see what the opposing conservative looks like in Pakistan.

If it’s the latter, well then Paper Tigers, please roar even if it is just virtually. Better yet, instead of typing a protest, mute the TV, change the channel, or turn it off when you hear unreasonable arguments and statements that use religion to justify what you inherently and intuitively know as wrong. Turn these Quran-thumping Mullahs and their representatives out of your heart and home, as they have no business interfering with or defining your relationship with your Maker.

It is a small start, but it is an important one for the long-term survival of Pakistan. It is an important step so you can freely roar on paper and in person.

%d bloggers like this: