When it comes to showmanship, there are few subcontinental rulers, past or present, to beat Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf. Opening his address to the just-concluded Hindustan Times Leadership Summit with a smart salute, the general may now be a spent force in his own country, but he still retains his ability to hold an audience spellbound. He is not a dictator, he assures people. Being a dictator did not vest in wearing a uniform but was a state of mind. Okay, we’ll let that pass. He spoke at once of the need for parity in arms and troop reduction between India and Pakistan while at the same time urging India to have a larger heart.
If the general were to be believed, he came up with several suggestions, many of which were being actively considered by the Indians, which would have set the foundations for a lasting peace. Sadly, they were ‘scuttled’. Always witty, always engaging but not always logical, he blamed intelligence agencies and dark sinister external forces for keeping the two countries apart. But then quick as a flash, back he came to Kashmir being a festering problem. The rise of fundamentalist forces in his country he seemed to attribute again to vague forces, not touching on the complicity of the political establishment, the shadowy intelligence agencies or the army. But, then he threw in a bit of nostalgia for Delhi and talked of erasing borders. The vexatious problem of Sir Creek and Siachen, he felt could be resolved in a trice if only people had listened to him. What did he do when fundamentalists of all hues were running about creating mayhem? Well, maybe no one told him the truth, he seemed to say. But, make no mistake, they must be dealt with now.
To his credit, the general sportingly answered questions abo-ut his alleged Swiss bank account, his palatial homes. They were not palatial, he had no accounts, and made enough through lectures tours to get by comfortably. But does the general count for anything in the future of Pakistan and India today? It would not seem so. Yet, it would be no exaggeration to say that the man who cannot even go back to his own homeland has never been more popular in the country which he spent much of his career trying to undermine.