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Ray
31 Aug 06,, 20:35
Should This Man Be Smiling?


PAKISTAN'S LEADER MAY HAVE THE WORLD'S TOUGHEST JOB. HOW LONG CAN HE HOLD ON?

Jul. 22, 2002
The 1964 edition of the rising Crescent, the yearbook of the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul, a hill station north of Islamabad, is filled with nicknames and in-jokes. Graduating cadet Pervez Musharraf, then 20, is teased for his hearty appetite and preference for a center hair part. ("Has the habit of splitting hairs.") But the slim leather-bound volume is more than a collection of collegiate memories; it's also a testimonial to the camaraderie whipped up during two arduous years of grunt training in the foothills of the Himalayas. Musharraf's classmates concluded his entry: "A guy to be with, especially when in a fix."

Pakistan is in a fix now. No one knows that better than Musharraf. He is a veteran of tight squeezes: no leader in Asia, perhaps in the world, has survived the number and magnitude of political crises that he has in the past few years. In 1999, as army chief, he crossed the Line of Control in Kashmir by capturing the Kargil Heights. Then he steered his country in a risky U-turn after Sept. 11 that led him to accept America's invitation to break with Afghanistan's Taliban, overhaul his internal security forces and act as host for the war on terror. And this past May he clashed with India in a showdown that risked nuclear escalation; this time he curbed Pakistan's Kashmir insurgency in exchange for peace. Each time Musharraf has gambled, and so far his luck has held. "I was always a risk taker," he tells TIME from his perch in a gold-upholstered chair in the parlor of Army House, his Rawalpindi residence, surrounded by 18th century muskets and gilded sabers.

Musharraf knows that even more dangers lie ahead--for the U.S., Pakistan and, of course, the President. Just last week the Pakistani government announced it had foiled an assassination plot against Musharraf in April in Karachi that included a defector from Pakistan's paramilitary police force. Then, on Saturday, a group of armed men slaughtered 25 Hindus in a Kashmiri shantytown as they watched a Pakistan-India cricket match on TV. Indian police suspect a Pakistan-based Muslim militia. If so, the provocation would rank with the mass murder that sparked the May face-off. Now more than ever, the world is counting on Musharraf the risk taker--who assures us his risks are calculated--to steer South and Central Asia from internal chaos to regional security, from the threshold of nuclear Armageddon to Pax Pakistania, from fundamentalist fervor to secular moderation.

Musharraf is a natural charmer: hospitable and humorous, eager to share delicate samosas and sugary sweets from the kitchen of Army House, prepared to venture anywhere in a conversation--and compulsively eager to please. Do you want to meet his wife? Brother? Grandnephew? He will invite them in for a chat. Much of his public support since he seized power in October 1999 has been based on that ingratiating sincerity. Musharraf's speeches on television--the most memorable came last January, when he explained why he had to crack down on Islamic fundamentalism--tend to be emotional appeals to the people. A good percentage of the populace has responded to the aura of a military man who seems neither haughty nor overly intellectual.

He was never the brightest boy, not even in his family. His mother Zohra predicted grand futures for his bookworm elder brother Javed, a Rhodes scholar who works at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, and younger brother Naved, an anesthesiologist in Chicago. Hearty Pervez, she decreed, should be a soldier. "For all of us," Musharraf says today, "she selected the right profession." (Zohra still lives with Musharraf and breakfasts with him most days, reading headlines aloud and making sure he doesn't seem overly stressed. "She sees me off in the morning," the President says.)

The partition of India forced the Musharraf family to migrate from New Delhi to a refugee ghetto in Karachi when Pervez was just 3. That status as a so-called mohajir would help form the Musharraf clan's aspirations for upward mobility. Mohajirs, Muslim immigrants from India, have been discriminated against in Pakistan since the nation's inception, losing out on government jobs and occasionally becoming the victims of urban rioting. A seven-year posting in Turkey secured the father's future in the foreign service and the family's rung in the middle class.

For the short, pudgy Musharraf, who was nicknamed Gola, or ball, finding a similar avenue for achievement would prove more challenging. At Forman Christian College, a Presbyterian boarding school in Lahore, Musharraf found his metier: competitive athletics. If his brothers had always been better at figures and letters, Pervez would prove himself on the playing fields. Nasrullah Khan, a schoolmate who now heads his alma mater's botany department, remembers Musharraf entering a bodybuilding competition in his freshman year in which students struck poses before a panel of teachers in the gymnasium. Gola's baby fat had melted away; he took third place.

The brawn-over-brains pattern continued throughout his career. At the military academy, someone else won best in class, but Musharraf carried the flag at graduation, an honor awarded to the cadet who best combined academics with physical training. Anointed a three-star general and head of the Mangla army base, located at the most sensitive stretch of the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, he was famous for speeding through work by 2 p.m. so he could spend the rest of the day sailing and playing Ping-Pong, tennis or squash with the men. "There wasn't a game he couldn't learn," says Major General Rashid Qureshi, who served with Musharraf and is his official spokesman. "We found him everywhere the troops were." It's a refrain you hear often in military circles: Musharraf was excellent with "the men." Of course, the men were trained exactly as Musharraf was: to look up to their officers, admire them and obey.

That loyalty, however, is being tested. By going moderate, Musharraf has alienated many of his former supporters and fomented the bitter sense that he is merely America's lackey. Just listen to an active member of Jaish-e-Muhammad, an extremist group implicated in attacks in India-controlled Kashmir. "Musharraf has crossed all limits," he says, insisting on anonymity. "There will be more suicide attacks. We are ready to sacrifice our lives." Pakistan police say groups like Jaish-e-Muhammad, which possibly have links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, want Musharraf's whole Yankee-loving crowd eliminated. Such radical groups have already registered their displeasure by setting off bombs to kill foreigners in the commercial capital of Karachi--11 French engineers died in a blast in May--and murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl. A verdict for his accused killers is expected to be announced this week. A bigger score would be Musharraf. The general, who has been known to carry a gun, shrugs off the danger. Says his wife Sehba, who wed Musharraf four years after he graduated from the military academy: "I do the major worrying." But a friend of Musharraf's confides, "He should be scared--he is scared."

When Musharraf led his bloodless coup, he wasn't considered a ruthless strongman or an unusually cunning operator. Many hoped he would put corrupt officials on trial and restore some political freedoms. In his first two years in power, however, he fumbled that goal, allowing democracy to remain a distant, foggy ideal. Then came Sept. 11. He was asked by George Bush to help bring down the Taliban, a group nurtured by the Pakistan government and military. The decisive repositioning of Pakistan by Musharraf won him a new reputation for deft statesmanship. In the 1971 war with India, the President had led commandos from the Special Services Group (SSG). Notes Nisar Sarwar, a retired colonel who attended the military academy with Musharraf, "The SSG motto is, 'Who Dares, Wins.' And he dares to win."

But the question 10 months later is whether he dared too much. Musharraf has to hold firm in the face of a maelstrom of conflicting forces: pressure from the U.S., Indian saber rattling, embittered domestic fundamentalists and extremists--and now the demands and intrigue of Pakistani politics, an arena Musharraf openly despises.

Musharraf is under no illusions about the size of the task before him. Asked if his is the toughest job in the world, he replies with quiet bluntness: "I think at the moment, yes." Under U.S. pressure, Musharraf has pledged to keep his promise to end one-man rule through national legislative elections in October. He has already appointed himself President, and according to Pakistan's constitution, the President must give up control of the military, which would mean ceding the army's might--and his power base--to another general. But Musharraf has given no indication that he is willing to do this. He is in the process of rewriting vital parts of the constitution to increase his power and is expected to hold on to his army-chief post. Dealing with an elected parliament will be a challenge for him, however; he will be a lone figure without regiments or even a political party behind him.

But Pakistani soldiers are well trained in the art of survival, and Musharraf remains a soldier to his core. Indeed, he still bids farewell to civilians and even foreign journalists with a salute. The trouble is, politics--local and international--requires a different set of skills: the art of compromise, the popular touch, Machiavellian guile, a rare gift for persuasion. And those skills are not taught at the military academy.

It is acid-test day at the Pakistan Military Academy, an event dreaded by every student. For nearly two years, the cadets have learned to run a mile in six minutes, perform endless rounds of sit-ups and push-ups, climb into a boxing ring to battle their fellow junior officers. The Acid Test is the most grueling exercise of all. The academy is in the Himalayan foothills north of Islamabad, but the weather is still brutal: 95[degree]F by midday. First the cadets have to traverse a mountain carrying logs on their shoulders. Then they run nine miles with full gear to an obstacle course that forces them to swing over ditches, haul themselves over walls and slosh through an artificial swamp fed by a guy hosing water from a truck. Some recruits do the course in 2 1/2 hours. Others collapse along the way. Those who reach the finish are allowed five rounds to hit a target at 25 yds., beneath an inscription that reads VERILY THE POWER LIES IN FIREPOWER.

A soldier's attitude toward politics springs from his training at the academy. All cadets attend lectures on governance. Arts majors take a political-science course studying Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Indian strategist Chanakya, Arab historian Ibn Khaldun and Pakistani poet Muhammad Iqbal. But the average soldier learns more in the mess hall and the boxing ring than from this tutoring in political theory. "Phhh," sneers Major General Hamid Rab Nawaz, the academy's commandant. "I never studied political science myself."

This is the environment that molded Pakistan's political leader--and that is cause for some concern. The Pakistan military considers itself the country's only functioning institution. What it steadfastly fails to concede is that military rule for 28 of the country's 55 years of existence has kept the other democratic institutions, such as the parliament and the judiciary, from maturing. Musharraf shares this mind-set, displaying a self-serving indifference to democratic niceties, while also portraying himself grandiosely as the shepherd of "real democracy." In a speech to the National Press Club in Washington last February, he declared, "I am more democratic than any government [that] ever existed in Pakistan." He claims to see nothing wrong with one man's rewriting the rules of democracy and appropriating a prerogative that formerly belonged to a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. "Thank God it has been allowed," he tells TIME.

As one-man rule slides to an end, the criticism of Musharraf is getting louder. His newfound moderation in Kashmir--he has at least temporarily choked the flow of militants into India--has further eroded his popular support among hard-liners. "He abandoned Afghanistan, claiming it was necessary to save other Pakistani interests, including Kashmir," says Farhan Bokhari, a member of the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tehrir. "Now he's abandoning Kashmir." India distrusts Musharraf utterly, and its battalions remain poised on the border. His embrace of Washington has earned him the sneering nickname at home of "Bush-arraf." While publicly supportive of the President, the U.S. doesn't want to appear to be banking on just Musharraf. "There are other people who have high skills and political savvy," says a State Department official, who compares Pakistan with Egypt after Anwar Sadat was assassinated and replaced by Hosni Mubarak. "It doesn't all rest on this individual."

The old soldier is beginning to show the strain. Musharraf still exercises every evening, briskly striding around the tightly guarded Army House compound. But he is suffering from a bum shoulder and can barely lift his arm. "See?" he says, failing to get it fully over his head. "That's as far as it goes." His daily tennis game, played with security guards, was canceled a few months ago.

Yet friends like Rashid Ali Malik, a retired brigadier who trained at the military academy with the President, insist Musharraf is unfazed by the growing conflict. "I met him recently," says Malik, "and I said there must be a great deal of pressure on you. He said it has peaked. He's a tough guy, no question about it."

In Army House, Musharraf has hung a plaque with advice to help get him through tough times, an excerpt from the Tao Te Ching by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:

"When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists. Next best is a leader who is loved. Next, one who is feared. The worst is one who is despised."

Asked what kind of leader he is, Musharraf answers immediately: "Loved. A leader is no leader if he is not loved." He continues: "They must follow you because they love you, because they think that you are the greatest. That is what a real test of leadership is." They followed him when Musharraf took his troops into battle along the Line of Control and in the 1971 war with India. But in his current fight for political survival, Musharraf runs the risk of heading into battle alone.

This is taken from TIME magzine
Premium Content from the TIME Archive

I heard a US programme where it was stated that Musharraf was a rare man since he was juggling his balls in the air!

It is true he has been juggling his balls in the air for long and is quite an expert at this unique art.

But are his balls going to crash on the ground?

Has he overplayed his luck too long?

thunderous
02 Sep 06,, 06:39
I heard a US programme where it was stated that Musharraf was a rare man since he was juggling his balls in the air!

It is true he has been juggling his balls in the air for long and is quite an expert at this unique art.

But are his balls going to crash on the ground?

Has he overplayed his luck too long?

Actually, he is a master juggler. He still has a few tricks up his sleeve. The killing of Bughti might be one such trick. The average right wing population of Pakistan is very pleased with the recent turn of events. This might just win him some recent lost support.