Frontline World

PAKISTAN - On A Razor's Edge, March 2004


Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "On a Razor's Edge"

VOICES IN THE WHIRLWIND
Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

INTERVIEW WITH SHARMEEN OBAID
The Brink of Peace

ESSENTIAL BACKGROUNDERS FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
Reporting on the Nuclear Scandal

FACTS & STATS
Background, Government, Issues

LINKS & RESOURCES
India/Pakistan Relations, Islamic Fundamentalism, Media Resources

MAP

REACT TO THIS STORY

   


VOICES FROM THE WHIRLWIND: Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

Jugnu Mohsin: Newspaper Editor

Jugnu Mohsin Jugnu Mohsin, publisher of the Friday Times newspaper, one of Pakistan's leading liberal newspapers, explores the personal contradictions of Musharraf and the complexities of his policies. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Do you think peace is a reality with India?

I think peace is now more of a possibility than it has ever been.

Do you think the people of Pakistan are looking forward to peace?

Unequivocally, absolutely, yes. They really are. We're all looking forward to peace. And this is a great myth that has been ... manufactured over the years -- that we're hell-bent on fighting this thousand-year war with India, and we wouldn't rest till we regain Kashmir and all the rest of it. While the people of this country feel that injustice has been committed and the rights of the Kashmiri people have not been taken into account, I think the sentiment for peace is overwhelming.

Why now? Why is President Musharraf trying to make amends?

Well, I think there was an inevitability about what's happening in Pakistan. ... I think that events post-9/11 have sort of telescoped everything and shortened the time frame and increased the urgency of many, many things that would have happened in the natural course of things over some years, and with plenty of hiccups and lots of heartache.

I think I may be being very unconventional here, but I'll say to you: 9/11 has been very good for Pakistan. It's been good for Pakistan because suddenly, overnight, we had to choose which way we want to go. And I think that the good thing is that those who run the country, the "establishment," which is a euphemism for the Pakistan army ... felt that perhaps ... they could carry on supporting the Taliban while wishing to be friends with the West, while negotiating loans with the IMF, while doing business with the World Bank, while talking peace with India, while stoking the Kashmir jihad.

Those were mutually contradictory things, and 9/11 made them choose: Which way do you want to go? Are you with us or are you against us? Although I don't approve of George Bush's "with us or against us" philosophy ... for Pakistan it translated into something positive.

And I think that General Musharraf seized the opportunity. He was decisive; he didn't lose any time; he didn't dillydally; he didn't do "ifs" and "buts" or this and that. Because that would have cost Pakistan, it really would have. And so the state decided to dump the Taliban ... not a moment too soon. And they didn't make the link at that time -- that ... jihadis are jihadis are jihadis. Whether they're Taliban jihadis or Kashmiri jihadis, they're all of a certain bent of mind and ... they have a certain worldview. And so I think it was inevitable that following the Pakistan army's 180-degree turn on Afghanistan, it would have to do something similar on Kashmir and would also ... talk peace with India. ... It has worked out well for Pakistan. Because we've seen our reserves increasing very, very substantially. We've seen our economy picking up. We've seen real estate prices, stock exchange prices, generally confidence returning to Pakistan. And I think this is all because Pakistan's establishment, led by General Musharraf, has aligned itself unequivocally with the global community.

What kind of repercussions do you think nuclear proliferation would have on Pakistan?

Well, I think it's too early to say. But I do think that the nuclear proliferation fiasco that has recently ... hit the headlines all over the world will have serious repercussions for Pakistan. I think that it's in the interest of the Pakistani state also to make sure that something like this doesn't ever happen again.

Do you think that these Kashmiri freedom fighters -- are they just freedom fighters or do they have a religious agenda as well?

Well, as I said earlier, I think the jihadis are jihadis are jihadis. And it doesn't matter what their cause is. I think if you're interested in the freedom of a particular area, then the people of that country or that area should be free to choose how they want to live. But the jihadis will impose their own brand of life, religion, society, culture, everything on us. And certainly nobody is asking 50 percent of the population -- the women -- [about] that scheme of things.

How important is people-to-people contact across the border with Indians ... for peace? Do you think that with these new bus/train links, that more people coming across the border, are actually going to help the everyday Pakistani to turn around and tell the militants that they are not enemies across the Line of Control?

I think it is absolutely crucial because it clears away the cobwebs. It re-establishes links that have been there for thousands of years and have not been there for fifty years. Fifty years is nothing in the life of nations, you know. The problem is that the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent is woven with the threads of an interdependent culture, which was a very attractive and beautiful composite culture. And it was made of Hindi verve, Persian finesse and lots of vigor from Central Asia. And it was a very beautiful thing and you find a lot of nostalgia for it, here as well as across the border in India. And we only have an opportunity to express our affection for each other and our feelings for each other, apart from what the states may feel. I think it becomes quite emotional and becomes very touching. And I think this is the healing touch which we need.

In terms of President Musharraf, do you think ... the assassination attempts were somewhat linked to his policies or his offer of friendship to India in any way?

I don't think it's linked to his offer of friendship to India. But if you see Musharraf's policies in a totality ... I think that what he is up against is a group of people who have Pakistan going down the route it was going down pre-9/11. The jihadis really had a free hand, both in Afghanistan, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and across the Line of Control in Kashmir. And sometimes, I think, across the international borders in India, as in the storming of the Indian parliament. And various other ... adventures which were very costly for the Pakistani state. But I think at that time, there wasn't the will to tackle these issues. I think, to give General Musharraf credit, he did see the opportunity and in a way he proved his liberal credentials and his credentials as a modern pragmatic man by saying that he would not further jeopardize the security of his country by following the adventurous policies that had laid us low.

Do you think that the policies of President Musharraf have changed in the last month or so because ... he feels his life ... has been in jeopardy? Because he wants to make a difference?

You know, I once interviewed him and we were talking about physical courage ... because he comes from the SSG unit of the Pakistan army, which is the Special Services Group, a commando unit. So he's essentially at heart a commando. ... My impression is that he doesn't shy away from danger; in fact, he relishes it a bit. But I think that he is also quite fatalistic in some ways ... when your time comes, your time comes. And a believer can do nothing about it. So you live your life to the full and try and do whatever you can.

Do you think Musharraf is in a very tough position right now? Do you think anyone else would have been able to do a better job or do you think he's doing the best he can, given the circumstances?

Well, you know, when I used to be in school and my report used to come home every year ... on it was the perennial remark "could do better." ... And I think if I had to give General Musharraf a report card, I would write "could do better" on it, year after year. Yeah, he could do better.

The thing is that I think he is a sort of a liberal, regular guy. I have a great deal of admiration for his mother, who has been a career woman all her life. She has worn a sari in Pakistan, and in an Islamic state, a sari is seen an emblem of ... India, Hinduism ... I mean she's quite brave and open about it.

Then the other thing which I think is significant is that he spent many of his formative childhood years in Turkey. And he once made a "mistake" of saying to the press that he thought that Mustafa Kemal Pasha [the founder of the modern secular Turkish Republic], otherwise known as Ataturk, was his hero. Of course he had to eat his words after that. But I do think that in his heart he is a liberal person. His raised his children, for example, very well. Both kids have married of their own choice, which is wonderful in this country of arranged marriages, you know.

He has a very supportive wife; they have a good relationship. I think that he has respect for women and I think that is reflective of how he has brought up his daughter. She's a professional; she's an architect; she lives in Karachi; she is accessible. All of these things, I don't know how you feel about this, Sharmeen, but as a woman these things are [more] telling sometimes than where you were educated or what degree you have ... what your traditional background is. I think these things are the making of a person.

Also, [Musharraf] has risen through the army not because he is a Punjabi connected to some influential clan, but on merit. Because he's from ... what we call an Urdu-speaking background, i.e., the son of migrants from India. And he didn't have a constituency to speak of. But he rose through the ranks because he was competent. ...

I think temperamentally he is in line with the modern world ... and that could be a blessing for Pakistan. Of course, he's a dyed-in-the-wool soldier also and that's where the contradiction lies. ... He was molded in the ethos of the Pakistan army. So now he has to reconcile his personal temperament as a regular guy, as a liberal man who has very, very strong role models of women in his family, who has treated his daughter on par with his son. ... On the other [hand], he's a dyed-in-the-wool soldier. So he has to reconcile this contradiction within himself.

Also, the requirement of the age is reasonableness, integration, globalization, economic openness, right? And on the other hand is the ethos of the establishment, which is ... security-obsessed and inward-looking and sort of based on [a] cold war system, where things were very compartmentalized. Now ... the world is in flux. And that is why we see so many contradictions in Pakistan's foreign policy.

A number of people feel [Musharraf] has become very unpopular recently. To what do you attribute that? Do you think it is unfair for people to be disillusioned by him?

I think he's unpopular principally with the fundamentalists, who see Pakistan changing course, and they can't take it because it is not part of their worldview at all. ... For them, it's a nightmare come true -- [that] Pakistan could be an open, liberal, outward-looking, internationally integrated society. Horror, horror, right? But we live for the day that it will be so.

But he may be unpopular also with members of his rank and file who ... shared this view with the fundamentalists. Because, remember in the 1980s when the Pakistanis were fighting this great Afghan jihad in collaboration with the CIA, in Afghanistan, and General Zia-ul-Haq was in power for 11 straight years, right? And not ... a [murmur] of protest from Washington all those years because he was doing their bidding.

During that time, the whole concept of jihad was retooled by the CIA; it was dusted out off the shelves. I mean, we hadn't heard of it since the Crusades, of course, in the Islamic world. So it was dusted out by the CIA and retooled for use by the very Gulbuddin Hekmatyars and Osama bin Ladens and Ahmana Zaweris who came and coalesced around Afghanistan from all over the Muslim world. Aided and abetted by the CIA, armed by the CIA and, of course, organized by the Pakistan ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's military intelligence agency] and the army.

And during that time there was a lot of ... re-education of the Pakistan army, which had been broadly secular before that, because it was a successor to the British army, which had been a secular, colonial institution. It became rapidly more Islamicized during the decade of the 1980s. So Musharraf had to contend with that too.

The hope of the common people is that we want a better life. We don't want to fight a thousand-year war with India. We don't want to defy the international community at a great cost to our security and our economy. We want to get on with our lives. We want to be prosperous; we want to be happier; we want to be more productive. I think [Musharraf] is being helped by that sentiment. And I'm hopeful that this is the majority sentiment in this country, and it will lead us to a better place in the future.

Do you think that there would be a power vacuum if President Musharraf were to go tomorrow?

It would be a tragedy because Musharraf is somebody who has tried to tread the reasonable path. ... In this country, at home, he has tried to keep his hands clean as far as internal politics are concerned ... . I have several issues with what he has done and not done, but in the main he's well intentioned. In the main he's pragmatic and reasonable. He's had a lot of practice now with real politics and the international community. And he has also parlayed with international leaders, so he has grown into his job and he knows what to do and what not to do, even though sometimes he takes his time over it. I think it would be tragic for Pakistan if at this juncture he wasn't there to lead us. I think he must lead us to the other side ... to the safe side. And then he must-- must -- hand over to the mainstream political parties.

Because, really, the military has no business being in government. It must go back to the barracks. It must carry on doing what it is supposed to do and not meddle in public affairs. And civil society has to be strengthened, and the mainstream political parties. Musharraf should lead us to the safe side on the other side of the river. And then let us get on with our own lives.

Ahmed Rashid: Critical Journalist
• Jugnu Mohsin: Newspaper Editor
"Shahzad": An Underground Militant
Lieutenant General Hamid Gul: Defender of Islam
General Mirza Aslam Beg: Former Army Foe of Musharraf
Sherry Rehman: Opposition Parliamentarian
Sami ul-Haq: Powerful Religious Leader

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