Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf deserves our sympathy. Not because he has been forced to carry out a coup against his own regime, not because his troops are being kidnapped en masse by Pakistani Taliban and then awarded Rs 500 for good behaviour, not because he himself has become a prisoner in his Army House and can't even nip out for coffee and Paan as he used to, but because he has utterly lost his grip over grammar.
In my 15 years in journalism, I have covered three coups. And as I walked towards my office last Saturday, I had the cynicism of someone who has seen it all before. As I entered the BBC offices on a chilly Saturday afternoon in London, a senior Pakistan hand, who like me had interrupted his cosy weekend to cover the story, wondered aloud why the general was taking so long before appearing on national television and explaining his actions.
"His speech writer is too old for all this excitement. He is probably taking his time," I said. Barrister Sharifuddin Peerzada has midwifed every single coup in Pakistan and when General Musharraf took over in 1999, we had to wait until 3 am for him to address the nation. The nation listened to his 10 minutes of neatly turned out verbosity and, relieved, went to sleep. Peerzada may lack in democratic credentials, but he cares about his syntax. Last Saturday as I arrived at my desk, Musharraf had already started his address. And it was immediately clear to me that he had fallen into that aging dictator's familiar trap: He had written his own speech.
I exaggerate because he only occasionally glanced at his notes and for 40 minutes talked, well, gibberish; the kind of stuff that only journalists and think-tank- /wallah/s would take seriously. I was so unsettled "not by what he was saying, but by the way he was saying it " that I listened to the entire speech again last night.
I have been accused of punctuation abuse often enough to take these things in my stride, but for the 40 minutes that General Musharraf spoke in Urdu, he didn't use one proper sentence.
He replaced his verbs with hand gestures, nouns slipped off his shrugged shoulders, adjectives quivered under his desk.
And when he said, "Extremists have gone very extreme," it suddenly occurred to me why his speech pattern seemed so familiar. He was that uncle that you get stranded with at a family gathering when everybody else has gone to sleep but there is still some whisky left in the bottle. And uncle thinks he is about to say something very profound - if you would only pour him one last one.
Consider this; in the middle of his speech when everyone was silently urging him to get to the point, losing the thread of his diatribe about how judicial activism was responsible for the rise of jihadis in Pakistan, he abruptly said, "I have imposed emergency," then looked into the camera, waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and said, "You must have seen it on TV."
He forgot to mention that he had pulled the plug on /all/ television channels except the State-run television. It might sound like old-school dictator talk, but just imagine if somebody took away your television and then told you, 'Oh, did you see that thing on TV?'
Via Sepia Mutiny and Amitava Kumar
The Real Musharraf By Asma Jahangir
An Angry Pakistani