AN EXCUSE FOR JOINING THE WAR ON TERROR – a book review

Ekram Kabir

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In the Line of Fire – A Memoir
Pervez Musharraf
Free Press
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Military governments or army-driven governments usually erupt in poorer countries. They even try to rule in countries that are at the break-even to see prosperity. They don’t have a chance in countries like United Kingdom, USA or even in Saudi Arabia – the nations that have already become prosperous and where the “poverty” jargon doesn’t work any longer for the ruling class.
This is exactly the reason why Parvez Musharraf’s In the Line of Fire is full of words such as “democracy” and “poverty”. After reading his book, the fact doesn’t escape anyone’s mind that Musharraf wanted to make the whole world believe whatever he did he did for Pakistan. He wanted to build the nation that was, he says, left in all sorts of troubles by his predecessor-rulers.
In his memoir, Musharraf talks about Pakistan, Islam, Al Qaeda, and the threat of terrorism – and especially Pakistan’s position in that war. Readers are also told how his country was unwittingly drawn into this war, and how he had no choice but to cooperate.
The book begins with glimpses from his childhood, the years spent in Turkey where his father served in the embassy, and his youth in the Pakistan Military Academy. From the Academy to the Army House (the home of Pakistan’s army chief) to the head of state, the journey was filled with dangers. The readers are taken to that evening in 1999, the night of the counter-coup, as he calls it, when as the army chief, he was denied permission on the orders of the then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif to land his aircraft in Karachi. And how by a counter-coup, he and his associates captured power and deposed Sharif and his government.
The next few chapters deal with rebuilding the economy. He is extremely critical of the appeasement of the religious right in Pakistan. And of two of Pakistan’s former leaders, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, for their appeasement and kowtowing to the religious fundamentalists. He says about Bhutto: “By the time his regime ended, I had come to the conclusion that Bhutto was the worst thing that had ever happened to Pakistan. I still maintain that he did more damage to the country than anyone else, damage from which we have still not fully recovered. Among other things he was the first to try to appease the religious right. He banned liquor and gambling and declared Friday a holiday instead of Sunday. This was hypocrisy at its peak, because everyone knew that he did not believe in any one of these actions.”
Later Musharraf says about Zia: “President Zia, in the 1980s, completed what Bhutto had started in the dying phase of his regime- the total appeasement of the religious lobby. Zia found it convenient to align himself with the religious right and create a supportive constituency for himself. He started overemphasizing and overparticipating in religious rituals to show his alignment with the religious lobby. Even music and entertainment became officially taboo, whereas I am told that in private he personally enjoyed good semiclassical music.”
The readers wonder what would be written about Musharraf himself when, down the line, another Pakistani head of state or army chief would be writing another book such as this.
Musharraf also talks about Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar a lot. In fact his book goes quite deep into how Taliban in Afghanistan ran their activities. There’s a confession about how Pakistan contributed in Taliban activities when he says: “We helped to create the Mujahidin, fired them with religious zeal in seminaries, armed them, paid them, fed them, and sent them to a jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. We did not stop to think how we would divert them to productive life after the jihad was won. This mistake cost Afghanistan and Pakistan more dearly than any other country. Neither did the United States realise what a rich, educated person like Osama bin Laden might later do with the organisation that we all had enabled him to establish.”
Musharraf’s book helps the reader to understand how the war on terror was in the making even before 9/11. He is extremely critical about the US as far as Afghanistan’s development is concerned when the Soviets left the country. He says the US didn’t even consider the rebuilding and development of Afghanistan after the Soviets departed. America, Musharraf says, simply abandoned Afghanistan to its fate, ignoring the fact that a wretchedly poor and unstable country, armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated weapons and torn apart by warlords, could become an ideal haven for terrorists.
In the Line of Fire is also full of personal incidents. There are stories of his love for a Bengali girl, his arranged marriage to his wife, Sehba, their long courtship, and the births of his children.
But Mushrraf does not tell all when he talks about the political developments of 1970 and 1971. He possibly intentionally hides many historical facts that, if written, tarnish his and his country’s image. Talking about Bangladesh’s independence war, he writes this was an Indian conspiracy. Like him, most Pakistanis still believe this idea. But the question is: was March 25 military crack down on innocent people of Bangladesh an Indian conspiracy? Did India cause the crack down that ignited a full-scale liberation war? A Bengali reader would certainly be infuriated when s/he is reading this part of the book. The General conceals these facts. He doesn’t say how many million lives Pakistani military had to take before they surrendered. He totally forgets about the terror the military caused among the people of Bangladesh. Certainly, neither the freedom fighters nor the Indians had killed all those innocent people. It was the army that the General served.
Again on page 55, talking about how Bangladesh’s independence war ended, he says: “A cease-fire was declared on December 17, 1971, and Pakistan was cut in half. Musharraf doesn’t say they “surrendered” and “Bangladesh was independent”. Rather he says “Pakistan was cut in half”.
Musharraf’s portrayal of Bangladesh’s liberation war shows it would take a long time to reduce the mental gap between Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Except for one or two wrong usage of English language, the language of the book is lucid. Unlike many South Asian writers Musharraf has a free flow of telling stories. But when the book was published, there was an allegation in Pakistan of ghost-writing this book. In Pakistan, this allegation was also made about Ayub Khan’s autobiography Friends Not Masters. However, In the Line of Fire is a widely-read book. It caught huge attention from the media across the world when it came out. And unlike Ayub Khan’s book, it would remain as a good reference in the future.
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