Gautaman Bhaskaran
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The Musharraf Memoirs: In the Line of Fire

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s autobiography, “In the Line of Fire”, could not have been more aptly titled. Strictly speaking, the title conveys Pakistan’s unenviable position in the global political arena during the past decade. A disturbing indication of this can be seen from what the former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, once reportedly told Musharraf: Pakistan would be bombed “back to the Stone Age” if it did not help Washington avenge Al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks.

But, the title is being read quite differently by the book’s critics, who feel that Musharraf has penned a memoirs of myths, and has thereby placed himself in the line of fire.

“The great enemy of the truth”, remarked John F. Kennedy, “is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” Musharraf, one can argue, by fabricating facts, comes uncomfortably close to proving Kennedy right.

“In the Line of Fire” – released in New York on September 25 2006 in defiance of a protocol that discourages the use of a State visit by a head of nation to launch his book – reads like a fictional account of the recent political events on the Indian subcontinent. Established facts have been largely ignored.

And, Musharraf did not even wait to be out of office to write a book with brazen candour, attractively packaging untruth and passing it off as some sort of a gospel.

“In the Line of Fire” will be remembered best for the controversies it has raked. Pakistan’s 1999 Kargil War with India and the Pakistan nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, affair (where Musharraf accuses India of shopping in Pakistan’s nuclear blackmarket, set up and developed by Khan) have angered literary and political circles, especially those in the higher echelons of India’s power corridors.

Unfortunately, Musharraf has chosen a time to publish his work when the India-Pakistan talks are delicately poised. On top of it, he says Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cannot take “bold decisions”. Mushrraf adds hat “the initial signs of sincerity and flexibility that I sensed in Manmohan Singh seem to be withering away”.

In what may be perceived as even more impudent, Musharraf writes:"I would like to state emphatically that whatever movement has taken place so far in the direction of finding a solution to Kashmir is due considerably to the Kargil conflict”.

The Pakistan President then goes on to write that the Kargil operation was purely defensive, and undertaken to counter India’s moves there.

By now, everybody knows that Musharraf’s Kargil operation was a sheer mis-adventure carried out by Pakistani troops, disguised as “Mujahideen”, at a time when Indian forces had vacated the Kargil area because of winter, a normal annual practice. India was completely taken aback when it found its military posts occupied by Pakistanis.

Musharraf had planned a first strike that winter, hoping to occupy Kargil (nestled in the Himalayas), so that his military would enjoy a vantage position over the Srinagar-Leh highway (which cuts through Kargil), leading to the Siachen glacier, which is under India’s control. Musharraf wanted to obstruct India’s access to Siachen; this would have been easily achieved when the highway was in the line of Pakistani fire.

Musharraf thought that India would rush its troops to Kargil, stripping its strike forces in the plains. He was certain that such a war would end in a stalemate, which could be interpreted as a victory for Pakistan. This would have forced New Delhi to the negotiating table on Kashmir.

Musharraf’s calculations went horribly wrong, and Pakistan’s then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was never fully kept informed about the Kargil plan, had to air-dash to Washington to try and get President Clinton to intervene. Musharraf did not approve of this visit, and feels that Sharif let a major tactical victory slip through. But this is a version that even American experts cannot accept.

General Ved Prakash Malik, who was India’s Chief of Army Staff during the Kargil war, retorts that Musharraf “passes the buck on to Sharif”, a game the Pakistani President appears to be adept at.

Take the case of Khan. In the chapter on nuclear proliferation, Musharraf writes that neither he nor his Government knew that Khan was running a business, selling Pakistan’s nuclear secrets and technology to North Korea and Iran for money.

It is widely believed that Musharraf knew everything Khan was doing: the scientist frequently visited Iran and North Korea carrying blueprints and even centrifuges. He returned with missiles for Pakistan.

Musharraf does not stop here. He goes on to say that India was part of this nefarious activity, shopping for nuclear know-how in Khan’s so-called Wal-Mart. Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, told the Press that there was absolutely no need for the country to get into something clandestine like this, given its strong R and D. “Any nuclear technology we have developed is our own”.

This is entirely believable because while Pakistan uses enriched uranium for its nuclear weapons, India largely depends on plutonium. Also, India first set up its uranium enrichment plant in Mysore (near Bangalore) in the late 1970s. Indian scientists had mastered the technique by then.

Musharraf’s tome, in one final phrase, can be summed as eminently forgettable. But, why at all in the first place did he put his pen to paper? One would suppose that men with dictatorial streaks in them crave for support, and in their desperate bid to find it, they try and justify their actions in a kind of wish-fulfilling odyssey. Musharraf attempts precisely this in his autobiographical volume.

(This story was posted on this website on September 30 2006)