Philosopher-author G.K. Chesterton famously said, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him”. This truism works with professional armies engaged in defending the dignity of their Flags and sovereignty of their lands, but doesn’t work against unrestrained combatants, amoral renegades, missionaries, or terrorists who cannot claim similar noble underpinnings.

Frequently warring Militaries across the Line-of-Control (LOC) have bestowed similar respect onto many warriors across the LOC.

In 2020, India’s Srinagar-cased Chinar Corps had tweeted about its ‘traditions and ethos’ whilst resuscitating a damaged grave of Major Mohd Shabir Khan, Sitara-e-Jurat, Pakistan Army, who was Killed in Action (KIA) at a forward location along the L.O.C in Naugam Sector on May 5 1972. Just as Brigadier M.P.S Bajwa had written an honest citation to Pakistani authorities about Captain Karnal Sher Khan’s conduct in battle.

Post-Kargil, he urged them to acknowledge that the fallen soldier had laid his life for his country, which had ironically refused his body, as they falsely claimed that its military was not involved. Later earning him Nishan-e-Haider, the highest gallantry award in Pakistan Military.

The Pakistani Military had praised India's illustrious Poona Horse Regiment under the redoubtable heroics of Lt Col. Hanut Singh (later Lt Gen.) as ‘Fakhr-e-Hind’ (Pride of India)! Respecting a soldier’s sacred code of honour, a most touching story is of Brigadier M.L. Khetarpal (father of India’s gallant warrior and Param Vir Chakra awardee, Lt. Arun Khetarpal), facing a poignant moment of confession from Pakistani Brigadier Khwaja Mohammad Naser, who had fired a fatal shot on the tank that ultimately killed Lt. Arun Khetarpal, P.V.C.

Both soldiers knew and respected that they were only professional soldiers who were defending their land, beliefs, and Constitution, in their line of duty. Whilst fierce rivals, they were spared the hate and pettiness that is the wont of politicians and other manufacturers of hatred.

Admittedly, these romantic notions of reciprocal dignities across the L.O.C. are a thing of the past as recent instances of mutilated bodies of prisoners (e.g., Captain Saurabh Kalia), beheadings (made infamous by Border Action Team of Pakistani Special Forces) and obvious signs of torture are reflective of the political, bigoted, and regressive strains that do not behoove professional militaries.

It is with this complicated backdrop, that one awaited the arrival of then President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, to meet the Commander-in-Chief of Indian Armed Forces, President K.R. Narayanan, at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in 2001.

Irony was magnified by the visitor having been born in 1943 at Daryaganj Delhi and moving on to Pakistan only after spending formative four years in Delhi. He was then to spend considerable time on the restive L.O.C. and fight India in 1965 and 1971, command a brigade near Siachen Glacier and was the singularly responsible for the then recent misadventures in Kargil.

There was a lot of subliminal and raw emotions running through my own mind, as one who too had served earlier as the ‘Brigade Major’ (B.M.) in the epicenter of the Kargil Brigade, much earlier, the terrain was extremely familiar and so many of my own brothers-in-arms had fought valiantly to the end, but the situation demanded restrain, rectitude and measured conduct, as he was a visiting Head of State.

Necessities of State protocols and ceremonials aside, there was something eerily amiss about his personality from the gut-instinct of a soldier, certainly not that he was a professional Pakistani General, but perhaps that he wasn’t one! Something that one of the most distinguished Pakistani Generals and later Chief of Pakistani Army Staff, Asif Nawaz Janjua, had caught on much earlier and called him ‘tricky Mush’ owing to his surreptitious and decidedly dodgy ways.

Subsequent turn of events would confirm Musharraf’s patent unreliability not just towards India, but to the Pakistani cause and narrative, itself.

In the melee of his packed visit, banquets, and engagements in 2001 – I sensed his immediate, longish and inquisitive stare at my imposing Uniform (as the Military Secretary to the President of India) and an instinctive outreach was initiated by him. Post the formalities of introduction, he asked curiously ‘General, are you from the Armoured Corps?’, and I vividly recollect replying, “Sir, the Rajput Regiment”.

Even in the hierarchy of commissioning in ‘Uniform’ he was my senior as he was commissioned in 1964, and myself in 1965, just before the Indo-Pak war. He nodded appreciatively and held out his hand and said half-sincerely, “fine Regiment indeed”, and my instinctive reply to him is firmly etched in my mind as lifelong memory as I mock-corrected him (as all proud soldiers of varied Regiments do, with much elan), “No Sir, actually the finest”.

We both had broad and genuine smiles and his handshake got firmer and more vigorous, a tell-tale sign of the soldier's acknowledgement of the fauji regimental spirit, that he found amidst a pack of civilians. There were many guarded and perfunctory conversations whilst we guided him around. But he was clearly trying to ‘soldier’ his way with his ramrod straight posture and demeanour as he was tested repeatedly by outright intellectuals like President K.R. Narayanan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh et al.

But his swagger and bravado was visible to all. Even then, it didn’t seem natural and seemed to be a bit of theatrical showmanship.

Not only did the Agra summit implode owing to Pervez Musharraf’s intransigence but his later date admissions brought him no glory, “I am the biggest supporter of Lashkar-e-Taiba and I know they like me, and Jamaat-ud-Dawa also likes me”. Musharraf had been in the ignoble mold of his fellow-Mohajir, General Zia-ul-Haq.

Both unhinged Generals had superseded many seniors owing to their ostensible ‘loyalty’ of their political masters, and both had sent their initial benefactors to the gallows (Zia literally, Musharraf politically). Musharraf’s flip flop acts included the Americans and the Taliban (when he joined the War of Terror) and tried to play one against the other, unconvincingly.

It came naturally to a man who pretended to be a modernist (who drank and had dogs interestingly called ‘Whiskey’ and ‘Che’), whilst seeking the puritanical hand of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman to get himself elevated. Barack Obama had tired of his grandstanding and sanctimonious claim that only he could get Osama Bin Laden, as he became convinced of Musharraf’s duplicitousness. Obama later admitted, “I argued for years that we need to move from a Musharraf-Policy to a Pakistan-Policy’.

Like a spider caught in his own web, Musharraf was finally abandoned by all. Nawaz Sharif was licking his own wounds in vengeful anger, Benazir’s P.P.P. had blamed him for her murder, Imran’s P.T.I. had spurned his idea of making Imran Khan a Prime Minister. Religio-extremist elements were angry for his double-crossing and only the Pakistani Military was left to hold his indefensible legacy, as much as they could, but without going all-out as he might have preferred.

Ultimately banished from the land that he had sworn to defend as his oath of Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi Sabilillah (A follower of none but Allah, the fear of Allah, Jihad for Allah), Musharraf passed away in distant Dubai, a forgotten and lonely man. His ambition had been his reason for his success and ultimately his downfall, a curse that he tried manipulating to the end, unsuccessfully.

As he will be finally put to rest at the Army Graveyard ‘with full state and military protocol’, one wonders at the lost opportunities of peace for both, Pakistan and India. As the funeral prayers are offered at the Polo Ground in Malir Cantt, Karachi, at least in the end Musharaff will be returning home and resting, where he belonged.

Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd), is the Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. Views expressed are the writer’s own.