Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


In the Line of Fire by Pervez Musharraf








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I read autobiographies and memoirs with a certain detachment, alert to the reality that we’re reading just one side of the story. In Pervez Musharraf’s new book, In the Line of Fire, I kept getting attached. I kept forgetting these are his stories, which he’s told often, and that there’s another story to be told. His bluntness shines on every page. After a few chapters, I lost all detachment, liked him, and concluded that his character was well formed in his youth and young adulthood, and we’re encountering a real person whose head is screwed on well, and in the right direction. Few will admit to a lack of integrity, but it’s easy to read stories of how integrity has served Musharraf throughout his life. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 17, “The Quest For Democracy,” pp. 154-57:


I ardently believe that no country can progress without democracy but democracy has to be tailored in accordance with each nation’s peculiar environment. Only then can it be a functioning democracy that truly empowers the people and produces governments to address their needs. If it does not function, then it merely creates a facade without spirit or substance. There are many, many systems that deserve to be called democratic. Transplanting one system to another country just won’t do, as has been amply proved in Pakistan and elsewhere, if that system is too alien. It can be rejected by the body politic, like a foreign substance in a human body.

Sadly, a functioning democracy is exactly what has eluded Pakistan ever since its birth on August 14, 1947. This lack lies at the root of most of our ills. The problem is that while most of us know that the Greek word demos means “the people,” hardly anyone takes notice of the other vital Greek word, kratein, “to rule.” Thus “people’s rule” or “rule by the people,” which is the spirit of democracy, is entirely forgotten. What we in Pakistan have consciously constructed instead is rule by a small elite—never democratic, often autocratic, usually plutocratic, and lately kleptocratic—all working with a tribal-feudal mind-set, “in the name of the people” with democratic camouflage. This small elite comprises feudal barons, tribal warlords, and politicians of all hues. Iii Pakistan we inherited a feudal, patriarchal society. The population is divided into vertical compartments of provinces, tribes, clans, castes, and subcastes. People generally do not vote across these compartments or across their tribe, caste, or clan boundaries. Elections therefore involve shifting coalitions of different clans or tribes, negotiated by tribal or clan leaders, rather than appeals to independent voters. The system lends itself to incompetence and corruption, leading to poor governance. It creates the illusion of democracy because we do have elections; but we forget that elections are but a tool of democracy, not an end in themselves.

Our history of dysfunctional democracy has caused us great grief, most hauntingly in the separation of East Pakistan in 1971.

Our suffering over the last six decades has been a learning experi­ence, however, and happily, more and more thoughtful people believe that there is no other option but genuine democracy. Our contentions are not about whether we should have democracy. Our contentions are about how best to make democracy work for the country and our nation and about setting up a system that will produce the genuine democracy for which the people yearn.

This brings me to the many yardsticks used to measure democracy. People must have the option of throwing a government out at regular intervals, through elections. The media have to be free, within the norms of civilized behavior. Socialists, who invariably describe their countries as “people’s democracies,” believe that democracy demands the equitable distribution of wealth, access to social welfare and educa­tion, and equal opportunities. I am no socialist, yet I share these ideals. I believe that the most honest yardstick, and one that is often forgotten by the well-heeled, is the human condition. I believe that a system is useless if it does not improve the human condition significantly and continuously Then it matters little, especially to the vast hungry mul­titude, what the system is, or whether or not the system passes under the label of democracy.

A system of elections must put into office a government that is sen­sitive to the frustrations and aspirations of the people and does its utmost to address them. Anything else cannot be called democratic by any stretch of the imagination. In Pakistan, we have had too many elections that only empowered an elite class whose primary objective is to preserve, protect, and fortify its privileges even at the cost of the coun­try and neglect of the people. Similarly, I know that economic growth is vital to continuing progress, but in itself it is meaningless unless the quality of life of the ordinary citizen, starting from the poorest, improves with it. This cannot happen in the absence of good governance. What is the use of macroeconomic success if its benefits do not filter down to the people? After all, why do we make all these political and administrative arrangements, including the creation of nation- states, if not for the benefit of our citizens? ‘When those benefits fail to reach them, they lose faith in the state, and the state can even collapse.


A brief political history of Pakistan shows how we have failed to create a true democracy. The death of the father of the nation, Quaid-e­Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, thirteen months after independence, was a serious setback. With his departure the infant state of Pakistan lost its lead politically, physically, and metaphorically—and even ideologically. We took nine years to finally produce a constitution in 1956, and even this constitution violated the basic tenet of one person, one vote. The population of East Pakistan, although larger than that of west Pakistan, we equalized through a device called the “parity principle.” This device gave the same number of seats in parliament to a minority in west Pa­kistan as it did to the majority in East Pakistan. To justify the parity prin­ciple, the four provinces of the western wing, comprising the Punjab, Sindh, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and Balochistan, were cobbled together into a single unit to be called the province of “West Pakistan.” Naturally, the people of the three smaller provinces of west Pakistan felt highly aggrieved by this unpopular decision, for they believed that it would not only emasculate their culture but also deprive them of their fair share of resources. Though the politicians of East Pakistan with their own vested interests and agendas had agreed to this unholy arrangement, the Bengali people there, overall, felt that they had been duped because their votes were watered down.


While Musharraf gets preachy at times on the pages of In the Line of Fire, that’s an easy fault to overlook, since he is trying to explain Pakistan to the rest of the world. This is an interesting book about a fascinating life, spent in service to his country, and at great personal risk.


Steve Hopkins, November 20, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the December 2006 issue of Executive Times


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