Musharraf: the man and his mission
By Ameen Izzadeen
Nattily dressed in typical spit and polish style, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf walked in to the Hilton's 18th floor room that had been turned into a live stage for a news conference on Thursday morning. He saluted - military style - about a dozen handpicked journalists who had been waiting for him. He shook hands with all and took his seat.

Gen. Musharaff taking the salute at the guard-of- honour at the airport

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe meeting Pakistan President at
Temple Trees

Sri Lankan President receiving Pakistan President at the banquet given in his honour

Bismillahirrahmanirraheem, in the name of Allah, most gracious and most merciful and with this opening verse from the Quran, he began his news conference.

The preamble to the news conference took less than a minute yet it brought out the man within and offered an insight on his vision for his country. This is not an attempt to psychoanalyze the visiting dignitary but I believed he has the vision and the capability to lead Pakistan out of a political, economic and social mess.
He is neither a total modernist nor an Islamist with extreme views. Probably, he is a modern Islamist or Islamic modernist. He is shedding his military image but does not want to be a politician. Hence, he appears to have the potential to emerge as the statesperson Pakistan has been waiting for.

"I have a role to play," Gen. Musharraf declared when asked whether he would bow out of politics after the October parliamentary elections. "I want to usher in real democracy to Pakistan - a functional democracy, a democracy that has been tailored to fit Pakistan and its needs," he said, indicating that his version of democracy need not be the same as what is practised in the western world or in India.

In that task, he is appears to be determined to succeed where his predecessors have failed. He says his task is to build a modern nation but it is not going to be another Turkey where in 1924 Mustafa Kemal, who like Musharraf was a military general, took over leadership and established the modern Turkey, radically transforming the Turkish society, politics and law and imposing Western standards of dress, the Latin alphabet and secularism.

Gen. Musharraf is apparently trying to modernize Pakistan while preserving its Islamic identity.

Spelling out the objectives of the proposed reforms, which have come under fire from political circles in Pakistan, the 59-year-old war veteran said political restructuring, economic revival, poverty alleviation and good governance were the salient features of a silent revolution that was transforming his country under his stewardship.

But his critics say that behind these reforms were a move to consolidate power and it would be the President, who got a five year democratic sanction for his rule in a questionable referendum in April, and not parliament that would be taking decisions.

They say that if his proposed constitutional reforms are implemented, he will be able to change the prime minister, dissolve parliament and hold the power to appoint senior judges and top officials. Besides, the proposed National Security Council will be a front for the military to have its control over the civilian administration.

Rejecting such criticism, Gen. Musharraf said, "I am a military man and I believe in the unity of command and that unity of command after October 10 will be centred on the prime minister who will take the decisions with regard to governance."

Explaining his post October 10 role, Gen. Musharraf said he would only act as a check to ensure that Pakistan's national interest was not compromised and good governance was established.

The general's vision appears to be another phase of the Pakistani military rulers' experiment with democracy. In the 1950s, Gen. Ayub Khan introduced his 'basic democracy' which gave him all the room to wield his powers. In the 1970s, Gen. Zia-ul Haq introduced partyless democracy and legitimised his rule in a referendum that linked the Islamisation process with the continuation of his rule. Now Gen. Musharraf comes out with his version of democracy.

But an important difference this time is an indication that Gen. Musharraf wants to put an end to military dictatorships.

Towards this end, he is trying to introduce a national security council. His critics see this as an attempt to legitimise the role of the military in governance.

Gen. Musharraf does not disagree. "To exclude them (military), we have to include them in the system," he said adding that it was unfortunate that the military had been drawn into politics.

The National Security Council comprising the President, the Prime Minister, the opposition leader, the joint military chief of staff and the commanders of the armed forces would only be a consultative body which would not challenge the supremacy of parliament. But it would advise the President on the dissolution of parliament or the sacking of the government if it felt that such an action was necessary to safeguard Pakistan's national interest, the visiting President said.

Though Gen. Musharraf got a 97 percent approval in the referendum than had less than ten percent turnout, most people welcomed the military coup that gained its legitimacy on a platform of corruption-busting.

Even his critics acknowledge his success in fighting corruption and Gen. Musharraf told the Colombo news conference that the main corruption-fighting body, appropriately named National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had so far retrieved more than US$ 2 billion which had been defrauded and that more than 300 top officials and politicians had been jailed on corruption charges.

His message to the self-exiled Benazir Bhutto, two-time prime minister of Pakistan, was that she would have to face justice and serve the jail term as she had been convicted and sentenced by courts.

Gen. Musharraf was in Sri Lanka, leading a high-level government and business delegation. His mission here was to cement Sri Lanka-Pakistan ties through enhanced socio-economic and political cooperation. Three agreements on tourism and archaeology; culture and technology; and free trade were signed on Thursday at Temple Trees.

Besides these agreements, the visit was seen as a diplomatic triumph, something that could not be said about his visit to Bangladesh, the first leg of his whirlwind tour of Asia. Mr. Musharraf is now visiting China, a close ally of Pakistan.

In Sri Lanka, he threw his country's full weight behind the peace process and said he prayed and hoped that the peace initiative of the government would lead to a permanent peace.

He said Pakistan would continue to give moral, diplomatic and material support to Sri Lanka in its efforts to realise peace and safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. "Pakistan is with Sri Lanka all the way," he declared in a pledge that hit national headlines.

A veteran military strategist himself, the Pakistani leader paid a glowing tribute to the Sri Lankan armed forces, saying that it was remarkable that they defended the territorial integrity of the country throughout the 20-year war.

Talking on military cooperation, General Musharraf said that Pakistan had trained more than 1,000 Sri Lankan military officers and would continue the process. He also assured that all what Pakistan had in military material was available to Sri Lanka, a country with which he is emotionally linked. It was on a return trip from Sri Lanka in October 1999 that he staged the military coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who tried to prevent the plane that carried Gen. Musharraf from landing in Karachi.

Some observers said Gen. Musharraf's Sri Lanka visit was aimed at showing India that Pakistan also had friends in the region. Gen. Musharraf dismissed this saying his visit was not aimed at "showing anything to anybody."

The friendly words he had for Sri Lanka were missing when he made direct or indirect references to India during the news conference.

He accused India, without naming it, of trying to stifle the progress of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. He said the SAARC charter should be amended to allow the annual summit to take place even if one member-state did not or could not attend. Obviously, it was a reference to India which refused to attend the Katmandu summit in 1999 and 2000 ostensibly in protest against the military coup, though observers said it was due to strained relationship between the two South Asian neighbours.

Relations between India and Pakistan have been strained since the Kargil crisis in 1998 when intruders from Pakistan occupied the Kargil sector in the Indian-held Kashmir.

When tensions increased during the Kargil crisis, the man who was keeping the finger on the nuclear button was Gen. Musharraf while Prime Minister Sharif was in Washington pleading with President Bill Clinton to work out a face-saving exit for Pakistan from the Kargil quagmire.

Displaying both the hawk and the dove in him, Gen. Musharraf hit out at India for not being realistic on the Kashmiri issue.

He accused the Vajpayee government of being hypocritical and juggling with words in dismissing international calls for an early end to the Kashmiri crisis.

His comments on Kashmir and the attacks on India came days after US Secretary of State Colin Powell caused an uproar in New Delhi by saying Kashmir was now on the international agenda.

"India cannot deny that Kashmir is an international issue. It is a flashpoint because both India and Pakistan have become nuclear powers. India should understand these realities," Gen. Musharraf said.

For decades India has been insisting that Kashmir is an integral part of it and an internal problem, thereby strongly rejecting any international or third party mediation while Pakistan has been pushing for internataional mediation and India's compliance with the 1948 UN resolutions that called for a plebiscite in Kashmir.

Gen. Musharraf said he regretted that despite a flurry of international diplomatic activity in recent months, the relationship between India and Pakistan was at its lowest ebb.

He reiterated that Pakistan did not want war and would not initiate war with India, his country of birth, which his family abandoned in favour of Pakistan in 1947. But he warned India again that Pakistan could not and would not remain passive if its dignity and honour were challenged.

Gen. Musharraf joined the Pakistani army in 1964 and trained as a commando at the military academy of Kakul. He was awarded a medal for gallantry during Pakistan's 1965 war with India, and served as a commando in the war with India in 1971 - the last time the two countries engaged in direct battles.

Calling for immediate measures towards de-escalation of tensions, Gen. Musharraf said de-escalation should not be an end in itself. It should lead to a dialogue between the two countries and a solution for the Kashmir crisis.

Commenting on the vital question of terrorism, Gen. Musharraf said there was vicious propaganda against Pakistan and Islam, obviously another swipe at India which accuses Islamabad of encouraging cross-border terrorism of Kashmiri militants.

He said suicide bomb attacks and similar acts were linked mainly to political disputes, making it clear that Islam had no connection with terrorism.

Pak minister here again next month Pakistan's Commerce Minister will be here again next month to finalise certain areas in the Free Trade Agreement signed last week, his Sri Lankan counterpart Ravi Karunanayake said.

Several areas including the negative list of items and concessions would be finalised at the meeting with Pakistan Commerce Minister Abdul Razzak Dawood who was on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's delegation to Sri Lanka this week.

Mr. Karunanayake signed a framework treaty on the FTA with Mr. Dawood on Thursday. The treaty, expected to provide a boost to bilateral trade and economic cooperation, would be ratified by both the countries before the end of the year. The agreement would enhance opportunities for joint ventures and additional foreign direct investment from Pakistan to Sri Lanka. The apparel industry in Sri Lanka in particular would also benefit immensely besides other areas such as engineering, tea and electronics, Mr. Karunanayake said.

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