Beware the rage of devils


By all accounts 2001 was Musharraf’s best year in power. Having been in the saddle for more than a year he felt confident enough to launch an all-out offensive on a broad front on a whole lot of issues be-devilling the existence of Pakistan as a State. He moved against Islamic militancy well before 9/11, and this despite the fact that some of his closest military associates were soft on the “Talibaan” issue, one of them quite vehemently. 9/11 helped Musharraf in putting a stop to the creeping Mullah-ism infecting the entire body politic of the nation. The success of the Muttahida Majlis-I-Amal (MMA) in the last elections in two Provinces marks the highest point in their campaign to Islam-ize Pakistan. There is no other way for them now but downhill.

Musharraf does not react to criticism, on the contrary he uses it objectively to build consensus on issues. Before the Agra Summit in 2001 (labelled a failure, it was a personal success for both Musharraf and Pakistan) Musharraf consulted different groups, media, politicians, intellectuals, technocrats, etc and even batches of bright young university students to coalesce the mood among a cross-section of the populace. The President is usually patient with even the most outlandish of suggestions, seriously debating contentious issues and accepting suggestions made clearly in the public and/or national interest. Unfortunately in the third world and countries where democracy is either non-existent, or exists in a strait-jacket (like in Pakistan), the un-electable hierarchy providing the leadership is usually dismissive of anything not their own, being quite cynical and contemptuous about putting down suggestions made by anyone but themselves. Extremely mean and vicious in taking suitable punitive action against recalcitrants at their own whims and caprices, their absolute authority to ride roughshod scares people from raising any protest about their plans and/or instructions. That is why the un-electable usually plug the Presidential system, how better to become PM than on Musharraf’s coattails?

Any common citizen of the State has a right to give counsel to those in power on matters of public and/or national interest, this advice has to be free of any motivation, personal or professional. There are many ways of expressing concern, it can be by direct communication or indirectly. The media must account for, comment, suggest and recommend on issues of importance to the masses to the government of the day. It is upto the ruler/s to accept and act on the advice or reject it. If the advice is not acted upon, the persons rendering the advice must evaluate whether it is in the public and/or national interest to agitate the matter further. If it is not that important, it is advisable to keep quiet and let matters take their own course. If some issue is of public and/or national interest, then one must to take up cudgels, for the media it is obligatory. One must try to soft-pedal and/or use alternate not-so-public channels, if still the message doesn’t get through than there is no option but to choose a more public route. This can be done in a decent, forthright manner or one can abandon civility and be a blunt and offensive. Ready access means face-to-face eye contact in getting one’s message across, others have to negotiate their way through very rigid bureaucratic layers of authority. Mature leaders do not “shoot the messenger” bringing bad news. If the person in power is a friend and does not take the advice rendered even than he (or she) will invariably take time out to debate the issue with the friend to explain the reasoning for not following the advice. Reasoning takes time and many others will invariably have the same grouse. Because of time constraints on the leader, duplication has to be avoided and the modus operandi for satisfying any objective criticism modulated in relation to the event and the consequences thereof.

Army-men (like all autocrats) are usually less charitable than politicians and bureaucrats to anyone criticizing them. Far different from the norm, not only did Musharraf’s military regime allow absolute press freedom, he broke the monopoly of the public sector on the electronic media. Criticism has sometimes perilously bordered on a fail-safe line between objective criticism and scurrilous personal attacks, even in the most trying circumstances he has kept cool. He has had good counsel from his close aides, among them late Lt Gen (Retd) Ghulam Ahmad, his Principal Staff Officer as Chief Executive and Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi, the former DG ISPR. The aura of power creates new dynamics, and sometimes a very thin skin. To his credit Musharraf has not succumbed to this perennial leader’s disease, one cannot say the same for some of his associates who deserve all the reprobation targetted at them. Personal vendetta compromises objective criticism, on the other hand the “knee-jerk reaction” by anyone being censured is to say they are being attacked out of personal motivation. Their reaction is obnoxious, these flunkies act “more loyal than the king”.

Behaviour and toleration is a matter of breeding, Musharraf has had the best, both at home and later on in the unit formations he served with in the Army. Thus is formed the basic character trait of most army officers, overwhelmingly officers and gentlemen. Before reporting to my father’s unit on being commissioned, the Second-in-Command (21C) of the Battalion rang up my father, who had retired by then, and asked him, “Do you want your son to be an officer or a gentleman?” My late father replied, “preferably both”. Not only these qualities missing among some in the upper hierarchy today, corruption is being openly condoned to the detriment of the nation. The tragedy is that those trying for accountability are held accountable by tin-pot leaders of no consequence. This nation has already paid an immeasurable high price for having had to tolerate those who have looted the nation at their will and those who have protected the looters.

Businessmen writing columns are an “endangered species”, they are almost extinct. As maybe the only one in the entire world having a regular weekly newspaper column for the past 17-18 years in a number of English and Urdu newspapers within the country and outside, one gets constant “advice” from those who find my articles “critical”. Their “observation” is that writing would “damage my business interests”, “why do you want to be different?” The implied threat is not to be taken lightly as I have discovered to my detriment from regime to regime over the years. My company has suffered occasionally because of my “indiscretions”. The routine is the same, first the carrot, and than the stick. This has never emanated from the top hierarchy in any one of the cases. Some “flunky” down the line has usually sanctioned the “retribution”. While both Ms Benazir and Mian Nawaz Sharif had reason to be upset with me from time to time, they forget that objective criticism also got them profuse praise on many a occasion, they have never themselves initiated anything vengeful, “who will rid me of this mad priest?” Those who attempt to shut people like me up do so for their own sake and on their own account but they calculate coldly that their leader/s would not be averse to seeing their tormenter “in the rye”, that anything they manage to frame “legally” would be acceptable to the rulers. Whenever the objective is illegal, the process of targeting that objective is also illegal. One normally bewares the rage of angels, in Pakistan we must beware the rage of devils.