In the Wake of Musharraf's "2nd Coup" There is Only Gloom

News & Politics

Yesterday, I printed out the text of two of General Pervez Musharraf's speeches. The first, dated October 17 1999, was made five days after he seized power in Pakistan and was his first lengthy address to the nation. The second speech, dated November 3 2007 and nearly twice as long, was made within hours of his "second coup" - though given that there had been talk of the declaration of emergency for some days prior to the event, it would be surprising if only a few hours of thought had gone into it.

I printed the speeches out in differently coloured fonts so they would be easier to differentiate as I viewed them side by side. I need not have bothered. In tone, structure and content the two are so divergent that there is no possibility of confusing one with the other, save for the cameo role played in both of them by Abraham Lincoln's "sometimes a limb must be amputated to save a life" speech.

In 1999 Musharraf was a man filled with confidence, putting forward his vision for Pakistan with clarity and more than a little rhetorical flourish. "My dear countrymen … Pakistan today stands at the crossroads of its destiny." Eight years later his dear countrymen had become, through eight years of familiarity, "brothers and sisters", and we had passed on from the crossroads of destiny to reach "the brink of a very dangerous situation". There was no rhetorical flourish any more, no metaphors of beacons of hope as previously, and his earlier call - "Let us not be despondent. I am an optimist. I have faith in the destiny of this nation" - was replaced by the grim assertion that "we will have to take important and painful decisions".

The structure of the 1999 speech is clearly laid out and easy to follow. There is the early call for optimism; an explanation of the stand-off with Nawaz Sharif, which led to his takeover; a list of his aims and objectives for the country; a description of the new form of government; a comprehensive vision for the future of Pakistan as pertaining particularly to the economy; accountability; a cementing of the federation; an opening up of the media; and an end to the exploitation of religion.

This is followed by a brief assurance to the international community that foreign policy is unchanged, and a fairly lengthy - relatively conciliatory - discussion about relations with India. It all ends with a prayer Musharraf had written for himself calling for wisdom, courage and strength. It is the speech of a man who knew exactly what needed to be said to a nation wearied of corrupt politicians, a nose-diving economy, and the looming shadow of war. I recall the reaction in the media and in many other circles was a guarded, grudging optimism, though there were always those who wanted most to hear him say the military would step out of politics immediately, and would not be content with anything less.

In contrast to the 1999 speech, what comes out most clearly in the speech delivered on Saturday is uncertainty. Where once problems were clearly identified, now there is a nebulous threat. Musharraf's address to the nation is filled with phrases such as "hurdles are being created", "chaos is being created" and "the nation is a victim of uncertainty". The one constant refrain is that the judiciary is largely responsible for this state of uncertainty: the system of government is paralysed because all senior functionaries of the government are being sentenced and humiliated; the law-enforcing agencies have no courage left because their officers are being punished by the courts; terrorists are wreaking havoc on the country because the courts have allowed them to walk free.

Notably, though, Musharraf doesn't claim that the court is putting aside evidence or making rulings contrary to the law. It is the entire legal system, not merely its functionaries, that he holds accountable. And though everyone knew that the impending decision of the supreme court against Musharraf's re-election prompted the declaration of emergency, he only mentions it late in the speech and blames the court for wasting time and not coming to a decision - though a judgment was expected in a matter of days.

In a speech that took nearly 45 minutes to deliver, Musharraf makes only one statement of what specifically must be done to "stop the downslide", and that is: "The three pillars of state - judiciary, executive and legislative - all need to work in harmony." In other words, there is no place for the discordance that comes with a system of checks and balances. It is a speech without hope, without promise, certainly without any attempt to create even guarded, grudging optimism. The longer I look at it, the deeper I am mired in gloom.

In the English portion of his speech, Musharraf compared himself to Lincoln. A friend of mine found other analogies, texting me to say: "He's like an ageing shogun in a Kurosawa movie, or a bureaucratic King Lear."

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