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‘Liberal’ CEO leaves Pak intrigued - An Indian View!

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    ‘Liberal’ CEO leaves Pak intrigued - An Indian View!

    -This quite 'flattering' and 'balanced' article from an Indian newspaper potrays the great CE as an intriguing and fascinating man with liberal convictions, who has brought unprecedented freedoms for the press, women and the general population. Indian observers see him as honest, sincere, well intentioned and not quite a typical military ruler. Further they potray him a hardened nationalist (re Kashmir) but also as a practical and responsible peacemaker.

    Liberal CEO leaves Pak intrigued

    By Seema Mustafa

    ***The Chief Executive of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is an enigma. Islamabads intellectual elite is fascinated by this Army man who does not conform to the image of a military dictator and yet is very much part of the establishment.***

    On the one hand he is direct, brutally frank and very much a liberal. On the other, he contradicts himself often and backs off on changes in the blasphemy law which leaves organisations like the Jamaat-e-Islami crowing with pleasure.Pakistan is not a traditional military state under Gen. Musharraf.

    ***There are no curbs on the press. There is no military in sight. There is no fear or apprehension amongst the people with even shopkeepers openly airing their views.***

    ***The women are very much part of an active society and insist that they have felt no restraint under this regime. In fact, a young and very vocal woman journalist is a little angry, everyone is asking us these questions, now you can see we are not in purdah. ***

    Indian journalists attending a South Asian editors meet organised by the News arrive at the hotel to a warm reception by their Pakistan colleagues. Liquor is flowing as inebriated Pakistan colleagues sing and dance their way through into the early hours of the morning. After all, as they point out, Gen. Musharraf himself is fond of a good peg or two in the evenings.

    ***Extensive interviews with Pakistans liberal elite, politicians and others spell out the bottom line: the general is a nationalist, he is honest, he is at the moment sincere about leaving office at the end of the three-year-term set by the Supreme Court and is actually keen to set Pakistans economy back on the rails.***

    ***By the same assessment, he is taking a hardline on Kashmir, will not give an inch, wants to talk not to resolve Kashmir but to gain peace to set his country right. With a strong Pakistan behind him he can be very difficult for India.***

    The elite, including journalists, are divided in their perceptions. Those critical of Gen. Musharraf admit that their views are coloured by their opposition to military rule per se and that this particular general does appear to be an exception although he could have done better if he had brought in some senior politicians into the high offices.

    There is apprehension, however, that he has not freed himself from fundamentalist control and will not be able to deliver on the tall promises he has been making. Not because he does not want to, but because circumstances will not allow him to. Gen.

    Musharraf himself makes it clear at an extensive press conference that his focus is on reviving the economy and good governance.

    It is clear that everything else, including the dialogue with India, is linked to this. He has no interest in peace as an ideological conviction, but only as a necessity to give him the time to work on Pakistans economy. Those around him speak of the need to reduce defence spending, and almost everybody spoken to asks repeatedly: Why does India not want to talk? Surely there can be peace only if we talk on issues.

    **The Chief Executive has managed to generate the impression that he is for a dialogue and for peace. Not a single intellectual, even those very critical of military rule, doubt Gen. Musharrafs sincerity on this. Says the head of defence and strategic studies in the Qaid-e-Azam University Rifaat Hussain, The situation in Kashmir is very dangerous.***

    Indian strategists, including the Army chief, are openly talking of limited war, and we do not see any signs of diplomatic engagement. This can have serious consequences, we could have a nuclear accident, or an inadvertent acceleration. Dr Hussain feels that this military regime is more responsible than its predecessors.

    ***Gen. Musharraf has announced a nuclear command authority, we have not seen a single irresponsible statement about nuclear use from him and he has repeated the offer of talks with India at least twelve times, he points out. Dr Hussain is of the view that India should test Gen. Musharraf and see if he is just hot air or a man of substance. ***

    ***Gen. Musharraf does not have a coterie. There is no person who is associated with him as his right or left hand. All spoken to agree that he is very much the leader, takes his own decisions but does so after a process of consultation with a group of corp commanders.***

    ***Interestingly, there is not a single Army commander who is seen in Islamabad as a possible successor. The famous Gen. Aziz is seen as too junior, with not a single name making the rounds as a potential threat. At the press conference he was very much in command with even the supposedly influential information minister Javed Jabbar unable to pass him a note, or give him an advice during the very difficult interaction with the South Asian media.***

    The general plays down his mohajir background. In fact, as Pakistani journalists pointed out, this fact is not even mentioned anymore in association with Gen. Musharraf. He lives off the professional commando Army image, reportedly being very popular with the rank and file. In an interesting sidelight, Mr Jabbar after learning that this correspondent was from Lucknow, turned to Mrs Musharraf with the comment, Are you not from Lucknow as well.

    The otherwise warm lady turned away with a very cold nod, obviously unhappy about the connection. A little later, to confirm the initial impression, I introduced her to an Indian journalist highlighting the Lucknow factor. The tense reply was, I am not from there, my ancestors probably were.

    There is confusion about the present relationship between the Pakistan Army and the fundamentalist groups. Gen. Musharraf makes it clear at the press conference that he had only introduced some procedural changes in the blasphemy law and had withdrawn these because of legal advise.

    Others inclined favourably towards him say that he had opened a front with the traders at the time and the backing off on the blasphemy provisions could be described as a strategic retreat. Many others in Islamabad, however, are not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and cite this instance as an example of his limitations.

    Jammat-e-Islami spokesperson Amirul Azim is very critical of the general. He said that our pressure made him withdraw the blasphemy law amendments. He has no direction, he has no ideology, he announces something, he withdraws it the next day.

    We are asking him to set an agenda, to solve Kashmir, he points out. However, when asked about the present dispensations attitude towards terrorist groups the reply is more conciliatory, in this General Musharraf has been better, he says jihad is different and terrorism is different. Pakistans interior minister Moinuddin Haider is a man who means business.

    He succeeds in convincing the visiting journalists of his concern about the flow of narcotics and arms into his country from Aghanistan. He makes it clear that his ministry is working on details to stop this as we have four million drug addicts and we cannot afford any more. He speaks of education, and is convincing in his sincerity to tackle issues. Congress leader Prithviraj Chauhan is full of praise, these people are different, they want to deliver.

    A senior columnist says, Musharraf is definitely liberal. He plays ping pong with he fanatics. He pats them on the cheek, and for every step backward he takes two steps forward. Gen. Musharraf said that the terrorist groups have been encouraged by the Americans. Osama bin Laden himself was flying in US planes, he told The Asian Age.

    In all this there is no mention of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The elite remembers him only when specifically questioned. He is not part of the conversation now which centres almost solely around the man in uniform.

    [This message has been edited by Malik73 (edited July 07, 2000).]