The President who never was


On the afternoon of June 20th, a confident but unsmiling Gen Pervez Musharraf embraced and saluted Rafiq Tarar as he showed him out of the door of the Presidential Mansion in Islamabad. Tarar had ceased to be President a short time earlier vide Chief Executive’s Order No. 3 called Succession Order 2001. To his credit, Rafiq Tarar showed some spunk and did not “resign for personal reasons” as he was most probably encouraged by the Khakis to do. Thereupon legal niceties dictated that Pervez Musharraf assume the office of the Presidency, in his own words at the subsequent oath-taking ceremony “reluctantly but in the supreme national interest”. With that transition, an aberration that had occupied the august President’s office for more than three years rode off into the sunset, in the words of Tarar’s son-in-law, Maj (Retd) Mubassharullah, “there is no need to scandalize when everything has been settled amicably in Islamabad”. In going into oblivion, Tarar joined almost all the former Presidents of Pakistan in failing to travel the whole course. Iskander Mirza was ousted by Ayub Khan, who in his turn was sent packing by Yahya Khan, the events of 1971 did Yahya in. Bhutto remained an executive President and a “Civilian Martial Law Administrator” for only a few months before he became PM, at his own volition, under an Interim Constitution. He was PM under the 1973 Constitution, amended beyond recognition, till ousted by his COAS Ziaul Haq in 1977, who himself died in an yet unexplained air crash eleven years later. Senate President Ghulam Ishaq Khan who succeeded Zia in 1978, outsmarted himself in 1993 and alongwith the PM was shown the door by the then COAS Gen Waheed, who honourably chose not to elevate himself to the Presidency despite the “call of destiny”. Farooq Leghari resigned honourably because he could not accept the dictation of “democratic” PM Mian Nawaz Sharif. Now Tarar has ridden off into the sunset and like any good Subaltern will probably never be heard off (or from) again, i.e. if he has the guts to risk losing his pension and the comfort that taxpayers will keep in coughing up to keep him comfortable in Presidential retirement for the rest of his life. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Marc Antony during the funeral oration for Julius Caeser, “the good that men do is oft interred with their bones, the evil lives after them. So let it be with Tarar!”

During the Second World War, as the Allied Forces prepared to invade mostly German occupied Europe, elaborate deception schemes were made to fool the Germans about the actual Allied Landing places in France. This was meant to disperse their effort in fortifying the beaches, the allocated forces to defend these beaches and to keep their German reserves far away from the beaches during the first hours of the invasion when the assaulting forces would be vulnerable to counter-attack by armour. One of the plans involved putting ashore by submarine near the Portuguese coast the body of someone decked out in the uniform of a fairly high ranking officer whose aircraft was purportedly shot down. A body was selected from the morgue, put into uniform, false papers planted on him as well as a briefcase containing plans/maps etc. This was “the man who never was”. Tarar was the living embodiment of such a person. He was plucked out of anonymity by Mian Nawaz Sharif’s father (Abbaji) because of his “loyalty” to the Sharif clan. This “loyal man” did not raise a finger when the clan went down, opting far silence “in the national interest”. Such was the man’s lack of courage or principle that till lately when he only balked at signing his own resignation letter, having the necessary spunk to resist veiled threats he was a willing rubber stamp to whatever was put in front of him. About three months ago, in a column entitled “De-Tarar-ising Pakistan”, one had urged Pervez Musharraf to end the Tarar charade and get on with it. The new President may not have acted on any advice from me and continued on his own timetable to the President’s chair, but it was high time that we got rid of Tarar as a continuing embarrassment to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Pervez Musharraf is finally at a place that he fervently believes was destined for him. One cannot doubt his intent, competence and integrity. He has to bring his credibility to bear to bring respect back to this august office. The Sharifs had deliberately chosen the lowest common denominator as President to belittle the Presidential office, this lowered Pakistan’s prestige in the comity of nations while providing the Sharifs with a false sense of security. Musharraf is a different kettle of fish, he is a doer who is capable of delivering. He has nobody but the entire population of Pakistan to answer to, the buck stops with him. An enormous responsibility as Chief Executive has force-multiplied many times over by his assuming the role of an executive President, rather than being the pathetic figurehead Tarar was. Becoming a President is only part of Musharraf’s destiny, history will record whether the promises he made are brought into focus with his destiny. One salient lesson must not escape him, one can depend only so much on friends and close associates to provide good governance, in drastically changing the destiny of the country for the better he has to reach far beyond that “circle” to find the talent and potential that will overhaul the dynamics of the rotten system in place. An enthusiast about changing the country’s future history, Musharraf must coalesce the help he gets to actually effect change. The Presidency is only a cosmetic benchmark, even a nonentity such as Tarar made it to the President’s House.

To paraphrase Nelson at Trafalgar, “Pakistan expects Musharraf to do his duty”. And what is his duty? His primary duty is to provide security to the common man, security of food, shelter, clothing, security of medical cover, education and transportation, security from the fear of those with guns on our borders and those lurking in the shadows outside our houses, the security of a safe haven for our children, the security of their safe return when they leave their homes. We talk of a land of milk and honey, forget the honey, for us heaven would be reached if Musharraf manages some milk in the land for everyone. President Musharraf may have all the good intentions in the world, good intentions do not translate into the basic needs of a citizen unless he develops an effective managerial team that has the courage to effect real change instead of giving in to the status quo. Musharraf is the man of the moment, he is the man and this is his moment. He was involuntarily drawn into a commitment on Oct 12, because of a monumental blunder by the then PM, after his removal the Presidency was only a matter of time. Now Musharraf has no choice but to deliver, that is his Karma, if he does not deliver, he may not have the luxury of being shown the door in the same gentlemanly manner he accorded Tarar.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.