Recall how Zia made his exit!
Mush should fear exploding mangoes
News from Pakistan provides the much-needed levity in these otherwise dreary times when we live in fear of rampaging Gujjars demanding their community be excluded from the Hindu caste system, declared a tribe and thus be pushed down the social hierarchy that is sustained by the cynical politics of caste identity practised by every political party, the BJP included. Over the past week, two major stories have emanated from Islamabad.
The first was based on comments by AQ Khan, the man who stole nuclear know-how from European countries to build an 'Islamic Bomb' and then sold technology and hardware to rogue states, among them Iran, Libya and North Korea, made to mediapersons during a funeral. Khan, who has been under house arrest ever since the Americans went public with his illicit trade, has now claimed that he peddled blueprints, centrifuges and the glowing stuff at the behest of Gen Pervez Musharraf. The Americans, who are still shoring up their favourite Pakistani, have responded with a banal statement that neither confirms nor refutes Khan's assertion. "We have not changed our assessment that AQ Khan was a very major and dangerous proliferator. He sold sensitive nuclear equipment and know-how to some genuinely bad actors," an unnamed US official has told ABC News.
Here are two facts about the 'dangerous proliferator'. Khan travelled to Pyongyang, Tehran and other such destinations, hawking technology to build nuclear bombs, after Gen Musharraf had been appointed Army chief by a gullible Nawaz Sharif, whom he was to later depose in a coup, and during his early years as Pakistan's military dictator. Second, Khan would use military aircraft, which cannot take off without clearance from what we refer to in this part of the world as 'highest level', for his foreign travel from Pakistani bases under the Army's control. For Gen Musharraf to pretend astonishment over Khan's nasty business is as laughable as the Americans feigning outrage over the father of the 'Islamic Bomb' wanting to spawn its siblings with other mates. Khan has merely said what everybody has known for long, including Gen Musharraf's minders in Washington, DC.
The other story which has had the Pakistani media in a tizzy for the past few days, and has been strangely ignored east of Wagah, is about Gen Musharraf preparing to flee Pakistan to seek shelter in another country. Colourful details, all of them strenuously denied by Gen Musharraf but not the Government of Pakistan, of which he is the notional head of state, have appeared in Pakistani newspapers -- about how he has had a raging row with Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, his hand-picked successor as Army chief; how the military he once headed has now turned against him; and, how a plane has been kept parked and ready to fly off with him into the sunset. Americans have swiftly come to the aid of their beleaguered 'staunch ally', letting it be known that he continues to enjoy their support.
But wait. Let's not rush to conclusions. Pakistan has a long history of Army chiefs viciously biting the hand that once lovingly fed them; of Americans dumping favourite dictators like cads dump women after bedding them; of politicians selling their souls to the devil for loaves and fishes of office; and, of people swinging from one extreme to another. Gen Ayub Khan came to power in October 1958 because the Americans didn't want the Pakistanis to elect a Government. He went on to famously declare, "We must understand that democracy cannot work in a hot climate. To have democracy we must have a cold climate like Britain." His job done, Gen Ayub Khan was given the boot by Gen Yahya Khan, who, after seizing power, remained closeted with 'General Rani' (a name that should ring a bell here) as Gen Tikka Khan let loose his rapacious soldiers on the Bengalis of East Pakistan.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, still smarting under Pakistan's humiliation in 1972, sacked the military's top brass and appointed Gen Zia-ul-Haq as Army chief. To stop Bhutto from going ahead with his 'Islamic Bomb' project, the Americans facilitated an Army coup on July 5, 1977, which led to the installation of Gen Zia as 'Martial Law Administrator'; less than two years later, on April 4, 1979, Bhutto was executed by his favourite General. The Americans went on to use Gen Zia to wage the Washington-sponsored jihad against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. With the law of diminishing returns setting in, his utility became questionable. On August 17, 1988, a US-supplied C-130 Hercules, carrying Gen Zia and the American Ambassador, Arnold Lewis Raphel, exploded soon after take-off from Bahawalpur. Raphel's death was what Americans describe as 'collateral damage'. Gen Zia's grieving widow claimed he had been killed "by his own"; whiskey-induced cantonment gossip placed the blame on "exploding mangoes".
It's mango season this time of the year and Gen Musharraf, who has darkly hinted in his memoir, In the Line of Fire, at what may have caused Gen Zia's plane to explode, would be stupid not to worry about his future now that the Bush presidency is nearing its end. If a crate of mangoes, gifted to another military ruler, could have exploded in mid-air, what's there to stop something from blowing up in his face? Given the ignominious exit made by Pakistani Generals who seized power to 'set things right' in Mohammed Ali Jinnah's Neverland, he may put up a brave face but deep within would be an extremely troubled man.
To rid himself of stress in his trying time, he could order a copy of Mohammed Hanif's hugely entertaining novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, published by Random House and due for release later this week, and look for insights between the lines into the way the Pakistani military, the ISI and the Americans work in tandem to get rid of Generals -- and lesser individuals -- who have outlived their utility. He may think he knows it all, but he would be surprised to find out what all he doesn't know. For starters, he could begin by checking whether Jinnah's portrait in his living room blinks at him. The rest he can read in Mohammed Hanif's account of the days leading to Gen Zia blowing up with exploding mangoes aboard a C-130 Hercules 20 years ago.
Coffee Break, Sunday Pioneer, June 1, 2008.
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