Musharraf: The Years In Power by Murtaza Razvi: A Review


Perhaps the most striking feature of this remarkably short biography of Pervez Musharraf is that the information in the book is nothing new. Remember, Musharraf's presidency existed in a time when the media industry - in India, Pakistan and elsewhere - was booming. Therefore, each and every dimension of his professional and, to some extent, even his personal life was discussed, debated, dissected and analysed on TV, via the internet, in newspapers and in magazines.It was, literally, a barrage of information that was being disseminated and, I fear, it is this barrage which might go against Musharraf: The Years In Power.

I say this with a hint of sadness because Razvi's 240-page tome is incisive, lucid, offers some brilliant analysis of Pakistan's ex-president by his closest aides. In his autobiography, In The Line Of Fire, Musharraf often portrayed himself as a 'the chosen one' to rule Pakistan; a sort of larger than life figure who was destined to rule the country and a messiah who could rid Pakistan of its troubles. But as Murtaza Razvi points out, Musharraf was just another military dictator like his predecessors who did nothing great for his country, got bullied by US pressure to lend it military support after 9/11, made a mockery of democracy in Pakistan by holding sham elections and referendums and made the judiciary and media (which, incidentally, he liberalised to a large extent) his arch-enemies. In fact, he was miles above in the air when the military, not Musharraf decided to overthrow Nawaz Sharif's government!

But that is not to state that Musharraf's tenure was full of failures or that this book is bereft of any new insights

Soon after overthrowing Sharif, Razvi writes, Musharraf addressed the nation and acknowledged that there were inter-provincial disputes within the country; perhaps the first Pakistani leader to do so. He gave unprecedented liberties to the media and paved the
way for private news channels to start in Pakistan (that he tried to muzzle and bully them towards the end of his tenure is another matter). As one of his formed aides states in the book, Musharraf's genuinely believed that his policy of 'Enlightened Moderation' would steer Pakistan away from Zia's Islamised State it was now. Most importantly, the Kargil fiasco notwithstanding, he genuinely wanted to make peace with India and resolve Kashmir forever; his willingness to sidestep resolutions on Kashmir were an indication of this.

And just as he was on the verge of making a breakthrough in relations with India, the crises started one after another. The Lal Masjid siege was perhaps the most embarrassing moment for the Pakistani establishment. The fact that a mosque in the heart of Rawalpindi, seat of the Army high command, couldn't be stopped from making hate-speeches exposed the breakdown of law and order in the country. His remarks about women faking rape cases to emigrate abroad severely damaged his 'liberal' credentials. Nawab Bugti's killing and the Balochistan fiasco exposed his dictatorial tendencies. Nawaz Sharif's return, an increasingly popular Benazir Bhutto, a hostile judiciary and chaos in the Swat Valley ensured that Musharraf's presidency was numbered.

Now that Musharraf is out of power, touring universities in Europe and America delivering lectures, one can only talk in retrospect. If only he had cracked down on extremist elements, if only he didn't meddle with the judiciary, if only he resigned as Army Chief much earlier, if only he strengthened Benazir Bhutto's security, if only Balochistan and Swat could be handled better, if only he paid more attention to the country's dwindling economy maybe Pakistan would've been a better place.

But then military rulers don't have the benefit of retrospect and hindsight. What they do have, as this riveting biography points out, is the power to make their countries a better place. And more often than not they fail to do so.

(A version of this review was also published in the Businessworld magazine