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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

General Drive

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General Drivel

Devashish Ray/Washington


Most Americans can't make sense of the book.

Using the White House to announce his book and dropping juicy quotes like a public relations junkie, General Pervez Musharraf has proved that he was artful as ever. With the press scrambling to guess what was coming and academics reading between the lines, he ensured that the book was firmly placed in the limelight. Musharraf says, "Most of the people in fact were against my writing this book at this moment, but like a good military leader, I took the decision against the major part of their advice." The man is obviously full of himself.The 335-page book begins with his train journey from New Delhi to Karachi during Partition and goes on to describe how he took over. Musharraf has tried to portray himself as a man who tried and failed to secure a peace accord during the Agra summit. "I met Prime Minister Vajpayee at about 11 O'clock that night in an extremely sombre mood," he writes. "I told him bluntly that there seems to be someone above the two of us who had the power to overrule us. I also said that both of us had been humiliated. He just sat there, speechless. I left abruptly, after thanking him in a brisk manner.""I think the Indian establishment-the bureaucrats, diplomats and intelligence agencies and perhaps even the military-have gotten the better of him. I feel that if a leader is to break away from hackneyed ideas and frozen positions, he has to be bold." Teresita Schaffer, former US ambassador to Sri Lanka and director of the south Asia programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, seems to agree. "I haven't read the book, but the Agra summit did fall through," she says. "I don't think the blame lies on Vajpayee, but perhaps Musharraf's indication is that he was in total control where Pakistan was concerned, and Vajpayee was not." Walter Andersen, director of the south Asia programme at Johns Hopkins, says, "It's not the Indian bureaucrats or intelligence agencies that Musharraf holds accountable. It is L.K. Advani. It was he who practically pressured Vajpayee into not accepting a lasting peace agreement with Pakistan."Faroq Hasanth, Pakistani scholar at the Middle Eastern Institute in Washington, offers another interpretation. "While the insinuation about Advani is probably true, we do not know what the terms of the agreement were," he says. "Musharraf did not do any homework for the Agra summit. I recall the former foreign minister of India Swaran Singh and Pakistan prime minister Z.A. Bhutto meeting several times, not just once like Vajpayee and Musharraf." Schaffer is also concerned over the peace overtures between Pakistan and the resurgent Taliban. "It's not exactly clear what this olive branch is all about; we have to wait and see how it is implemented," she says.In one passage, Musharraf blames India for the Kargil war. "My gosh," says a US state department official. "This guy is unbelievable. Even the hardcore Pakistanis would not believe this." On the issue of proliferation of nuclear technology, too, Musharraf accuses India of copying Pakistani centrifugal designs and making them available internationally. "Ludicrous," says Hasanth. "Pakistan's core military generals have complete control over it and if anyone has proliferated, it is them. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was clueless about the Kargil invasion. Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that Musharraf is lying through his teeth here." Former national security adviser Brajesh Mishra has called the book a pack of lies. Says Andersen: "This book is a rebuff to Nawaz Sharif's book where he clearly accuses Musharraf of being the architect of the Kargil war. However, no one believes Musharraf on this issue. It was he who was, and still is, in complete charge of the military. His military intelligence is flawless." Andersen is surprised that the leader of a country embroiled in problems has written the book. Hasanth finds the book full of conceits. "Musharraf's book is all about himself, his ego and his holier-than-thou persona. It amazes me how he had the gall to write such a book," he says.