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October 18, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Kuldip Nayar

'The chances of reconciliation between New Delhi and Islamabad have further receded'

Army coups by nature are sudden and secretive, but not in Pakistan. You can see the clouds gathering, then threatening to burst and ultimately coming down in torrents. When the first martial law administrator, General Ayub Khan, took over power on October 8, 1958, he had already discussed malaise in the political and administrative life with the then president Sikandar Mirza for nearly two years before discarding the khaki uniform of the commander-in-chief.

The coup by General Pervez Musharraf, chief of the army staff, was open, in broad day light. You could see the whole thing building up. On September 24, he held a meeting of army commanders and other senior officers, ostensibly to discuss Kargil. The scene was so ominous that even the US administration issued a warming that it would oppose any attempt to overthrow the constitutionally elected government.

Still the rumours were so persistent that Mushahid Hussain, information minister of the ousted government, contradicted a reporter's question about an impending army coup with the words: 'Not at all, not at all.' He went on to add that the US statement was a response to those Opposition politicians who had been seeking American support to undermine the democratic system in Pakistan.

But it was clear that Musharraf was smarting under the oft-repeated accusation that the army had failed at Kargil. In fact, he began saying that everyone was on board, meaning that Nawaz Sharief was part and parcel of the operation. As for his own future, Musharraf would say: 'I am going to complete my tenure.'

Still, the army could not rub off the stigma of having staged the Kargil intrusion on its own and involving Nawaz Sharief unnecessarily. Musharraf was embarassed over the observation by former Pakistan foreign secretary Niaz Naik, who travelled between Islamabad and New Delhi to broker a solution on Kashmir. He said that Nawaz Sharief got to know about Kargil on April 26, more or less at the time when New Delhi became aware of it. In fact, Defence Minister George Fernandes had indicated at the beginning of the Kargil operation that the Pakistan army had launched it without either consulting the prime minister or the ISI.

That the ISI, which is generally an initiator of such operations, did not know anything about it is clear from the appointment of Lt General Khwaja Ziauddin, the ISI chief, as successor to Musharraf when he was dismissed a few hours before his return from Sri Lanka. General Ziauddin's whereabouts are not known. He was reportedly sitting with Nawaz Sharief when the prime minister's house was surrounded by troops.

It was clear that the gap between Nawaz Sharief and Musharraf did not fill over the period. Both seemed to be planning their strategy. Nawaz Sharief tried to lull Musharraf into complacency by giving him a year's extension. Apparently, it did not work. Musharraf had done his home work properly. Whether Nawaz Sharief consulted corps commanders before dismissing Musharraf or not is not known. Obviously, he did not because Musharraf has been supported by the commanders. They are the ones who ultimately decide things in Pakistan, democracy or no democracy.

One report was that five corps commanders, including the one at Rawalpindi, were on the side of Nawaz Sharief and four on Musharaff's. This was not true. When the chips were down, Musharraf was the winner. 'History,' as Winston Churchill has said, 'judges a man, not by his victories or defeats but by their results.' Nawaz Sharief lost. True, the Rawalpindi corps commander did not send his troops to surround the prime minister's house. They belonged to the III brigade. But that might have been a sham. Ultimately, everyone fell in line, including the naval chief whose appointment had led to the resignation of the incumbent, Admiral Faish Bokhar.

The surprising part is the smoothness with which the coup took place. The Pakistan armed forces do the exercise well because of their past experience. There were some gunshots in Lahore and Islamabad. But they were by the loyal policemen, not the troops. America, as usual, did not anticipate the events. Its ambassador to Pakistan, William B Millian, issued a statement a few days ago to allay the fears about an army coup being round the corner.

Then the Americans preferred the democratically elected Nawaz Sharief government to army rule is clear. Their post-coup statement is stern and expects early restoration of democracy. General Zia-ul Haq promised 90 days for election and stayed on for nine years.

Probably, Musharraf would be forced to hold election within 90 days as provided in the Pakistan constitution. But the biggest casualty is conciliation with India which Nawaz Sharief was trying to talk about. His ouster itself may well be because of the vested interest of the armed forces in confrontation against India.

It is an open secret that the Pakistan army was trying to escalate the operation at Kargil to internationalise the Kashmir issue. It did not happen. The withdrawal was considered a humiliation. Perhaps Nawaz Sharief realised -- when he involved President Clinton -- that the Kargil operation might end up in a war between India and Pakistan, with the possibilities of a nuclear holocaust. This reconfirms the impression that the Lahore process was destroyed by the top brass, who find rapprochement with India an antithesis of enmity which they believe provides the ethos to Pakistan.

This may pose problems to New Delhi. In an effort to stoke the fires of hatred, the armed forces in Pakistan may pursue a policy of confrontation with more venom. They may find the disparate elements that constitute Pakistan uncontrollable, unless the common enemy, India, was projected in a big way. The armed forces might be tempted to externalise their problems. In any case, the chances of reconciliation between New Delhi and Islamabad have further receded. And it is a tragedy that a compromise, which would have had the stamp of the BJP representing Hindus in India and the Muslim League in Pakistan, may not be possible now.

It is sad to see the democratic forces supporting the coup. No doubt, Nawaz Sharief had alienated the Opposition. In fact, he had opened too many fronts. Apart from political parties, the fundamentalists were also pushed on the opposite side. But this should have been a matter between them and Nawaz Sharief. If they believe the army is the only force to deal with him, they are injuring whatever is left of democracy in Pakistan.

To pull down a government elected by the people belongs to the people. If commanders are to decide who the rulers should be, it can be any other system, not democratic. True, the armed forces have been wanting to acquire a role in the administration. Zia once told me in an interview that the army should have the constitutional right to walk in whenever it felt that things were going wrong in Pakistan. General Jehangir Karmat, who resigned one year before his term ended to pave the way for Musharraf's succession, also favoured more say of the armed forces in the running of Pakistan.

What the leaders of the Pakistani armed forces do not realise is that in a democracy the people elect their rulers. However wanting in performance, they represent them. To strengthen democracy, there should be more democracy, not less.

Kuldip Nayar

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