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Still on top of his game

It is patently obvious that Pakistan has been better ruled by dictators than by democratically-elected presidents or prime ministers, writes Khushwant Singh.

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 13:49 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

Some people have questioned the wisdom of inviting General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to an open-house question and answer session in Delhi. I think it was a splendid idea and such exchanges should be encouraged. He spoke with candour; members of the audience did not spare him. It was a lively give-and-take on outstanding issues between India and Pakistan.

However, I could not understand the logic behind the embargo he placed on questions relating to Pakistan’s attempt to grab Kargil. He was the principal actor in the misadventure which took the lives of hundreds of Indian and Pakistani soldiers — and to no avail. Kargil stays with us. Since he also repeated that if the Kashmir issue was not resolved according to Pakistan’s wishes, one should expect more Kargils and Siachens. Doesn’t he owe it to himself, his country and us, to explain why?

We have resolved the Kashmir issue democratically by having free and fair elections. We expect its new chief minister, Omar Abdullah, to spell out in detail what sort of autonomy he wants for Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union. There is good reason to hope that a settlement will soon be reached. That should silence Pakistan and prevent it from becoming a conduit for militant intruders into our territory.

It is patently obvious that Pakistan has been better ruled by dictators than by democratically-elected presidents or prime ministers. Without exception all its democratically-elected heads of state were corrupt: from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, his daughter Benazir, Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz, down to the present head Asif Ali Zardari — he being the worst of the lot. All of them accumulated vast estates in their own country and abroad.

By contrast, military dictators were financially clean and above nepotism, with the sole exception of General Yahya Khan who was a notorious womaniser. Though General Musharraf was guilty of trampling over human rights, no one ever accused him of making money, promoting relatives or friends. He is an upright man with a modern outlook. He is not a bigot and during his eight-year-long tenure, relations between India and Pakistan were better than ever before with more comings and goings of people and cross-border trade. His downfall came because he tried to put down the bigotry preached by the Taliban and the al-Qaeda with an iron hand. His handling of the siege of Lal Masjid in Islamabad turned out to be a bloody affair and spelt his doom.

Another point in favour of General Musharraf is that he is a brave man. Many attempts have been made on his life by his own countrymen. Others would have considered migrating to a country where they would be less vulnerable and seeking asylum there after retirement. He has decided to stay on in Islamabad come what may. With Pakistan again on the boil, there may be elements in the country which would feel more secure in a military dictatorship.

Loving India

Giles Radice made many Indian and Pakistani friends during his college years in Oxford. He decided to keep up with them. So whenever he could he visited India and Pakistan, mainly to renew his friendship and find out how the two countries were doing. Two years ago he and his Polish wife Lisanne spent an evening with me in Kasauli. I found both a most engaging and well-informed couple. Giles describes himself as an Indophile — one who loves India. They were back in India last month primarily to meet their college mates, Prem Shankar Jha and Ashok Nehru, and take a ride on the Palace on Wheels through Rajasthan. They dropped in for a drink one evening.

Giles is a committed socialist and an influential member of the Labour party. He was elected to the House of Commons successively for 28 years till he was given a peerage: as Lord Radice he is a Member of the House of Lords. His Indophilia has not abated. He was impressed by everything he saw including Delhi’s traffic jams, considering them healthy signs of progress. He was disappointed with Pakistani rulers’ inability to contain religious bigotry. When you have doubts about your country’s claims of doing well, an hour with man like Giles Radice acts as a tonic to boost your morale.

“It seems your party is in for a drubbing at the next general election,” I said to probe him. He replied evasively. “Looks like it, doesn’t it?” I went further to rub my point home. “You even lost London and that blonde buffoon Boris Johnson is the Tory Lord Mayor.” Giles nodded his head sadly and once again ignored my comment deftly. “His father-in-law Charles Wheeler who was the BBC correspondent in India got a grand funeral oration in St. Paul’s cathedral. He was a good journalist and a good man,” he replied.

“He was related to me in a distant way. He married my younger brother’s divorced wife. And has been cheating on her ever since,” I remarked. Giles simply gave a non-committal smile.

First Published: Mar 20, 2009 22:23 IST