I have read the book. Despite the fact that I am a fast reader, it took me two full days. The book was so absorbing I did not want to miss a single paragraph. In almost all other publications one is wont to skip a few pages that do not appear as relevant. Not so with ‘In the Line of Fire’, at least for me.
I mention this fact because a hail of comments mostly unfavourable began to spew out from those opposed to Musharraf or Pakistan even before the book was put on sale, based solely on certain excerpts that had been revealed. Criticizing something without reading it just betrays a particular mindset and this practice is rampant in our part of the world. Examples abound and I need not go into their details. My article will examine some of the major criticisms levelled at the book to determine their validity. Ban on writing books/memoirs by serving officers
Yes it is true there are restrictions on serving officers/government servants on writing publicly. They can however do so with the approval of the competent authority. So who would be the competent authority for the COAS? - The President of course. And who is the President? - The COAS himself. Common sense dictates that if Musharraf the COAS had decided to have his memoirs published, he must have done it with the consent of the President of Pakistan and since he is currently the President of Pakistan, he had the approval of the competent authority. So what is the fuss about? Unless of course his detractors and pedants would be satisfied only if the COAS files a formal letter of permission that would then circulate through the maze of section officers and their ilk eventually ending up with the President, he himself - and he approves it. Give me a break.
Serving Heads of States/Heads of Governments Do Not Write Their Memoirs While Still in Active Service The publication of “In the Line of Fire” by President Musharraf while still in office may not have many precedents but when has breaking a tradition and treading new grounds illegal or even immoral? Should the General had waited and written his memoirs after retirement from the Presidency? When would that be and will the issues that he has addressed have any relevance then, given the current milieu existing in Pakistan? Look at the tremendous response and interest the book has generated world wide. Nawaz Sharif too has written a book in Urdu on similar issues while still in exile. How many of us are even aware of its title let alone have read it. By the way the title is ‘Ghaddar Kaun’.
The book reveals state secrets There is not one major issue in the book which the President had not articulated in his speeches at some point and therefore those who accuse him of divulging state secrets are either blissfully unaware of what constitute state secrets or are simply trying to mislead the gullible public for their personal agendas. Yes the book does fill in the minor details which the President has shared with us for the first time, and this is what makes it so interesting especially for those of us who witnessed history in making during those turbulent times.
The book presents a distorted version of the Kargil episode
On Kargil the President has articulated the Army’s point of view. Dr. Shireen Mazari in her book, ‘The Kargil Conflict 1999” had revealed the Army’s point of view very similar to the one stated by General Musharraf in his book. Kargil, according to Dr. Mazari and General Musharraf, was an attempt to pre-empt the execution of a likely Indian offensive in that sector. The Indians deny it and the fear of an Indian offensive may have been unfounded but the intelligence report at that time could have influenced the Army High Command to come to such an assessment. Historical evidence abound where skirmishes and wars have broken out on misperceptions. Kargil was perhaps one such event. To discount it as a figment of imagination will not be fair.
The book admits the involvement of Pakistan Army in the Kargil episode. Whereas the Pakistan Army maintains that the freedom fighters were a mix of irregular and regular forces, the Indians believe it comprised only Pakistan Army regulars primarily from the Northern Light Infantry. Either way does it really matter considering that Pakistan Army has eventually owned the Kargil operations as its own brainchild?
Dr Shireen Mazari had rightly observed that when the incursions began, the initial Indian radio messages intercepted by Pakistani intelligence outfits indicated that the Indians assumed the aggressors were ghusbatias, a local slang for Kashmiri freedom fighters, (or insurgents according to the Indians). Pakistan Army was pleased with their deception plan and decided to play along insisting throughout the crisis that the intruders were indeed freedom fighters and not regular members of the Pakistan Army.
Dr Mazari laments that this single decision was to prove tragic and very costly causing immense damage both in the military and diplomatic levels. Pakistan Army could not openly engage the enemy and even the PAF could not be employed without first accepting responsibility for the incursions. She further argued that Pakistan would not have lost the moral high grounds if it had accepted that the Kargil operation was launched in retaliation and response to the numerous incursions by the Indians especially in the Siachen sector. Pakistan’s persistent denial of its Army’s role throughout the crisis when all evidence pointed to the contrary destroyed their credibility giving the Indians a moral advantage, besides severely curtailing the response options of Pakistan’s Armed Forces against the Indian onslaught.
Was Kargil a victory?
The General does not claim any such thing in his memoirs. He does speak of brilliant tactical successes which even his greatest detractors the Indian army grudgingly acknowledge. He does concede that eventually the Indians triumphed but he blames the loss to the inept handling of the crisis by politicians rather than faulty planning or execution by the Pakistan Army.
The General maintains that the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was fully briefed about the operations and it was launched with his approval. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand blames his Army Chief for keeping him in the dark and even misleading him and launching the misadventure behind his back. On the question of how much briefing was given to Nawaz Sharif, PML (N) MNA Chaudhry Nisar in a TV interview admitted that Nawaz was given a briefing on Kargil but he was told that only guerrillas had infiltrated across and occupied the heights and Pakistan Army was only providing logistic support and strengthening their forward defences in that sector. Even if this be true, for the PM not to have surmised the gravity of such a provocative act and the likely Indian reaction speaks volumes for his I.Q. - or the lack of it.
A more plausible explanation could be that Nawaz Sharif was fully on board and was reasonably well aware of the situation and he too was convinced that the gambit could succeed. He would then emerge as the undisputed genuine tiger of Pakistan rather than the paper tiger as depicted in his election symbol. When the plan misfired, his pretence of ignorance is unfathomable, to put it mildly.
Why did Nawaz rush to Bill Clinton? The General maintains that the PM developed cold feet and Nawaz insists that the Army begged him to rescue it from the crisis. Whom one believes will depend on one’s bias but regardless of who is correct, what boggles the mind is that if the forces had to be withdrawn from the heights because their position was becoming untenable, why rush to Clinton and seek his blessings. The forces should have been withdrawn. Period. Running to the US President and receiving a stern lecture from him and then capitulating only served to further humiliate the nation - unless the decision to withdraw was a political one which did not have the full backing of the military high command and the visit to USA was to get assurance from President Clinton that his administration will not tolerate a military coup against the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif by the Pakistan Army.
The failed Agra summit 2001
The General has given a very graphic and candid account of his one to one meetings with the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee in the failed Agra summit. His version has undoubtedly irked Vajpayee who has issued a denial of sorts. I say of sorts because Vajpayee did not, at least to my knowledge, deny the portion where he and the General initially on a one to one basis and later with their handful of close advisors had agreed to the draft agreements following long and torturous discussions, only for Vajpayee to back out presumably after discussing it with his other associates immediately following the closed door meeting. For the General President it was unthinkable that the Prime Minister of the largest democracy of the world could be coerced by his subordinates into reneging after his approval and acceptance of the draft agreement. What he could not appreciate was that while he was in a position to take a decision on his own, PM Vajpayee had to obtain the consensus of his inner cabinet members before appending his signature on the document and making it official.
It appears that while Vajpayee was satisfied with the draft, he received vehement opposition from his kitchen cabinet with whom he must have discussed the details immediately afterwards. He then had no option but to backtrack, not once but twice.
Perhaps in hindsight it would have been better if Vajpayee had made it clear at the outset after the mutual one to one meeting and agreement on the draft resolution that his final assent could only be given after he had discussed it with his key cabinet members who were waiting in the wings and were not a part of the discussions. Perhaps he didn’t feel it necessary to spell it out in as many words as in any democracy this much is understood and taken for granted. Perhaps he did not realise that President Musharraf, because of his military background, was not aware of the nuances of a democratic dispensation. Perhaps the General is now better able to understand the limitations of a PM in democratic setups.
The entire sequence of events at Agra had been disclosed by President Musharraf on various forums immediately after the meeting and the Indian PM had contested it all along. The book therefore discloses no secret let alone state secrets.
Richard Armitage’s threat of being bombed into the stone age
Colin Powell’s famous ‘You are either with us or against us’ message to General Musharraf on 12 September 2001 is common knowledge. Richard Armitage’s blunter version of ‘being prepared to be bombed to the Stone Age’ as revealed in the book is a revelation that has stirred a mini Tsunami. President Bush promptly denied any knowledge of such a message as does Richard Armitage. Fortunately President Musharraf by stating that the message was conveyed to him indirectly through his Intelligence Chief left enough room for ‘plausible denial’ by both Bush and Armitage without contradicting President Musharraf.
Did Armitage really use these very words or did his message imply it? Considering the blind rage of the American administration after 9/11 and the cowboy mentality of both Bush and Armitage, one would not be surprised if Armitage is guilty as charged. By referring to the cowboy personality I mean no disrespect. Unlike their urbane sophisticated city colleagues, cowboys not very different to our own rural and tribal folks are simple, generous and honest to a fault, not very conversant with the diplomatic doublespeak. So if Armitage translated Colin Powell’s message more graphically it blends with his personality and the personality of his boss’s boss, President George Bush.
Shorn of diplomatic niceties, Colin Powell’s with us or against us message conveys a threat not dissimilar to what Armitage is supposed to have articulated to the Pakistani Intelligence Chief. Why such a message was not conveyed to Malaysia, Brazil or for that matter any other nation besides Pakistan. The reason was obvious - a full fledged military campaign through land and air against the Taliban in Afghanistan could only be mounted through Pakistan. Pakistan’s position was similar to those states that unfortunately came in the way of the Alexander’s Army as he marched towards Persia and then India or Babur’s forces as he advanced towards Panipat. Either they gave way providing them with transitory shelter and necessary logistic support or they were blown away if they resisted. Pakistan wisely decided not to be blown away.
Opponents of General Musharraf never tire of accusing him of capitulation under the American threat based on a single telephone call. The General in his book clarifies that his decision on joining the Americans was based on very hard and realistic analyses of the pros and cons of accepting or rejecting the American proposition. He also discloses that he had lengthy and detailed discussions with his cabinet and military colleagues but eventually after two days he conveyed his decision of joining the Americans against their war on terror. He further states that not all American demands were accepted and those which were very detrimental to the interest of Pakistan or impossible to implement were rejected. And finally he alone takes full responsibility for the decision.
During TV and radio talk shows the opposition members remain highly critical of the General’s U turn on Pakistan’s Taliban policy. When questioned further about how they would have reacted under those circumstances, to a man/woman they concede that they too would have had to adopt a similar policy. However they would have debated the issues further in the Parliament and would have demanded greater concessions for Pakistan than what the General obtained. How would a few more days delay would have helped is anybody’s guess and would they have been able to force USA to give even more concessions than those provided to the Musharraf government is open to speculation.
The General’s inside information on how the momentous decision of change of track on the Taliban policy was reached is very informative and should put to rest any further debate on the subject. Unfortunately that is highly unlikely as the real motive of the opposition is to embarrass and destabilise the present government.
Portrayal of political and national figures of Pakistan in poor light
The book has adversely commented upon the roles of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, late Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif among the politicians and rulers. A complete chapter is devoted to Dr. A.Q. Khan, the supposed father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb which deals with his shenanigans pertaining to the nuclear proliferation scandal that rocked Pakistan in 2003.
Not surprisingly Benazir has sprung to the defence of her father writing scathingly against the General. It is true Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto still has a large following in Pakistan and he is adored and practically worshiped by a segment of the Pakistani public. It is also true that there is a sizeable section of Pakistanis who do not like him and many who hate him still holding him culpable for the break up of Pakistan. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto remains a controversial figure where battle lines between the lovers and haters of Bhutto are clearly demarcated. Independent foreign media and foreign journalists on balance do not paint Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in favourable light. So if General Musharraf is not enamoured by Bhutto’s charm, wit and calibre, it is his opinion and one which is shared by many others.
Benazir and Nawaz Sharif also have a following among the masses but their appeal bears no comparison to that of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Benazir’s popularity and following despite her follies is to a large extent a result of her ‘basking in the afterglow of her late father’. Nawaz Sharif too has a small group of admirers but his appeal appears to be dwindling. Given the fickle nature of Pakistani politics both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir can stage a comeback but such an eventuality remains slim as long as General Musharraf is in control.
The portrayal Dr. of AQ Khan as a megalomaniac maverick, after he was raised to such lofty heights must have been an excruciatingly difficult option for President Musharraf. Confronted with the evidence that only served to confirm his worst fears, the President had only two options; protect Dr AQ Khan or protect Pakistan. He opted for the latter at considerable risk to his own credibility as he was well aware that the public reaction would be very adverse.
I had interacted with Dr AQ Khan on more that one occasion. As the Commandant of the Joint Services Staff College I had hosted him twice as a guest speaker where after the formal lecture we had free, informal discussions on a one to one basis in my office. Even then I was appalled by the size of his ego and his belief that he and he alone was the saviour of Pakistan. Later on when Dr AQ Khan went around projecting himself unabashedly in all forums my impressions about his disturbed personality were confirmed. The revelation of his almost treacherous activities in the book does not surprise me. For my fellow countrymen I understand their anger, disbelief and disappointment at the trashing of a national icon.
There is also a widely held belief that the full scale of the scandal has not yet been revealed and they were other prominent people who were associated with the good Doctor. Perhaps their names have not been revealed to save further embarrassment to the Government. Or perhaps this is the complete story. One can only speculate.
In conclusion the book is not a classic and the author has not claimed it to have produced one. It will remain popular and relevant for as long as Afghanistan and President Musharraf remain critical and relevant to the war on terror. Once the crisis is over the worldwide interest in the book will dwindle rapidly but for historians and research scholars it will continue to remain an important document.
In the ‘Line of Fire’ has addressed a number of issues but it has also ignored some. Their disclosures at this juncture might have amounted to revelation of state secrets. And anyway in an autobiography rarely does one reveal all his secrets and for a majority these will go to their graves with them.
A section of the Pakistani public will view the contents of the book sceptically and some with open hostility but to a large majority it will provide new insights into some of the critical issues facing the nation - that is if they take the trouble of reading it themselves rather than relying on hearsay. For the American and European public, the book will provide a fresh dimension to the challenges being faced by Pakistan. I am fairly confident its overall impact on the western public will help improve the image of Pakistan. The publicity of the book during the President’s tour of USA was therefore well worth the effort.
(The writer is Director of Centre for Aerospace Power Studies, PAF Base Faisal, Karachi.)