Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the Aspen Ideas festival, Colorado, on July 1 (Pic: Video grab from www.aspenideas.org)
Perhaps the best way to understand Pakistan is to approach it as a fictional land where real things sometimes happen. Once you do that, all its improbabilities make perfect sense. That way when something stops making any sense at all, you could always invoke the alibi that it is after all from a fictional place.
Take for example, Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf, who has been in self-imposed exile since 2008. Contrary to the evidence, I think Musharraf is a fictional character. Or at the very least he is partly real and partly fictional. How else can you explain some of the things that he does and says with complete conviction?
Musharraf was at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado yesterday. That an “Ideas Festival” should feel compelled to invite a general proclaimed offender by the government of his country which he once took over in a bloodless coup is in itself fiction worthy. One has to hand to the general who does get around on the strength of being a straight shooter. So far he has had a fairly busy and apparently productive afterlife after he was practically forced to leave Pakistan in the face of the threats of impeachment.
The Pakistani government has declared him a “proclaimed offender” in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The Interpol has been told twice by Pakistan to arrest Musharraf in that connection, according to media reports. Apparently those details do not trouble the hosts of the Aspen Ideas Festival, nor, for that matter, the US immigration or the state department or the homeland security.
I doubt if an ordinary “proclaimed offender” dodging an arrest warrant in his country, no matter how bogus and politically motivated it may be, for his alleged involvement in the assassination of a former prime minister would have been able to travel around the world, and particularly to America, at will. If that is not fictional, what is?
There has to be unspoken immunity in place for Musharraf to be able to travel whenever he chooses to. I don’t know if the authorities in Pakistan are embarrassed that its official arrest warrant carries no currency at all. When I look at stories like this very basic questions pop up in my mind. Such as what happens when Musharraf lands at an American airport and presents his passport at the immigration counter? Do any red flags go up? If they do, what is he asked? If they don’t, why not? Does he carry a diplomatic passport? Is he asked, ‘Sir what is the purpose of your visit to the United States?’ If so, what does he say? Does the homeland security department take note of the “proclaimed offender bit” or the arrest warrant at all? If not, why not? If they do, what’s the follow up action? I have all day and I can go on but these should be enough.
At Aspen Musharraf yet again declared his intention to return to Pakistan “even at risk to my life”, according to The Guardian’s Adam Gabbatt. He left out the part about how hard he would have to negotiate with President Asif Ali Zardari before his party’s government let him return. He could still be arrested on arrival because even Zardari might find it hard to disregard an arrest warrant against someone accused of involvement in his wife’s assassination. And yet Musharraf thinks he can and will return. If that is not fictional, what is?
I like the way many leaders talk of their own egregious failures as if they are talking about someone entirely unconnected with them. Musharraf rued the fact that the current government was “running Pakistan into the ground” but conveniently forgot that a lot of its problems struck roots during his tenure from 1999 to 2008.
The Guardian quotes him as saying: "I know I see Pakistan and I know it has all the potential to do well for itself, now at this moment it’s being run to the ground..Therefore I love my country and I love the people of Pakistan, and I thought I must go back to at least try to recover from this malaise that it is suffering from."
Where else but in fiction would someone describe the staggering scale of Pakistan’s existential challenges as “malaise?” It is not as if Pakistan is suffering from some bodily discomfort and weakness before the onset of a seasonal flu.
And finally, for me the most entertaining part of his assertions at the Aspen Ideas Festival was what he said about his 2004 visit to Iran where he said he tried to dissuade President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
In an interview with Atlantic Media Company owner David Bradley he said, "You (Iran) should not adopt a confrontational course, you should adopt a conciliatory course, for the sake of the world and the region.”
"They are determined to develop a nuclear arsenal, although I do not think they have a reason to develop," Musharraf said.
"Iran has not posed any threat, therefore they do not need to go nuclear."
Here is a military leader of the world’s only nuclear armed Sunni Islamic country which happens to be Shia Iran’s next door neighbor telling the latter’s two powerful leaders not to pursue nuclear weapons. This has the majesty of great fiction because why else would Musharraf think that Ahmadinejad would pay any attention to his advice? He would because he did not for a second believe in what he was saying. These are motions that leaders go through fully conscious that they mean nothing.
I am not even going to point out (and in saying so, do precisely that) the central role Pakistan and Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father that country’s atomic bomb, played in Iran’s nuclear enrichment in the 1980s. That would only add to the list of improbabilities.
No one should be surprised if Musharraf does manage to return to Pakistan and politically rehabilitate himself and even become its president all over again because one thing that Pakistani elites are brilliant at is cutting deals among themselves. After all, that is how Benazir Bhutto fatefully returned in 2007 followed by Zardari from their own exile like another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif even as Musharraf, who had overthrown Sharif, went into his own.
All this would be fictional, if it were not real affecting real people everyday.