Tanks on peace path - Memories of war await Musharraf

Read more below

  • Published 15.04.05

Ajmer, April 15: Memories of war will assault the soldier in General Pervez Musharraf when he sets foot here tomorrow in his biggest mission of peace. Two tanks flank the route he will take to the dargah to seek the blessings of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in his endeavour and in his pilgrimage. The tanks are anything but diplomatic niceties. They are not meant to be. They are war trophies.

Both are green, both are rusty, one is Indian and victorious, the other is Pakistani, destroyed, conquered. They are put up on pedestals for public display. Such are the immediate visuals Musharraf will see on his way to South Asia?s largest pilgrim centre for people of all faiths. Musharraf fought in the 1971 war. It is little solace that he is a commando in the Pakistani army, not an armoured corps officer.

Musharraf is expected to fly in here from Jaipur by one of three Indian Air Force helicopters at his disposal at 3.35 pm. He will land at the Ghoogra helipad, 13 km from the dargah, by the Jaipur Road.

As his motorcade with wife Sehba, six relatives and five others from his 59-member entourage heads for Ajmer Sharif, they will take in central Rajasthan?s shrubland, barren hills, brightly coloured turbans, brighter cholis and the war machines. The first tank is an Indian Vijayanta ? now being sold by the kilo as scrap ? displayed on a concrete dais in the Military School, Ajmer, that is on the left of the general?s route as the road dips from a hill. It is being polished for the school?s 75th anniversary due in November.

Next to it is a martyr?s memorial that is in the making. It is sponsored by a former Rajya Sabha MP.

?The memorial will have the names of all our martyrs from the 1965 war to Kargil (1999),? says Harjinder Singh of the Dogra regiment who is quartermaster in the school.

Singh is supervising the polishing of the tank. Some 9 km into the city, where the President?s route will take a sharp right turn at Bajranggarh Chowk at the foot of a hill, is the other war trophy ? a Patton tank destroyed in the Battle of Longewala (immortalised in the film Border).

The crests of the Indian Air Force, army and navy adorn three pillars next to the tank, its turret dented, its tracks slackened presumably from aerial bombing. It would take an effort for the general to miss this war trophy through his windshield.

The tanks were not put up here overnight. The Vijayanta was placed about two years ago. The Patton so many years back that none here is able to recall. But the wars are not forgotten.

In 2001, Musharraf wanted to visit Ajmer Sharif on his way back from the Agra summit. But such was the hurry after the talks by the Taj failed that he overflew the shrine. Jaswant Singh, then A.B. Vajpayee?s confidant, remarked that the general had not got a ?hukm? from Ajmer Sharif and had failed to strike peace.

The last time a Pakistani general came here was in 1987. The late, largely unlamented General Zia-ul-Haq, flew jetspeed to Jaipur, for the original cricket diplomacy, after the army?s ?Operation Brasstacks? threatened to blow up into yet another war. Zia?s visit brokered a fragile peace but staved off the war. More memories for Musharraf.

At Ajmer Sharif, the khadims (religious workers) of the dargah and the head of the dargah committee, will escort him through the Dastarbandi (where he will be given the ceremonial turban) and the ziyarat (the view and rituals at the tomb of the Khwaja).

Musharraf and Sehba ? who did not make it here in 2001 either ? will present chaddars (sheets of cloth) at the tomb of the Sufi mystic. They will also be given two chaddars to place on the tombs of two disciples of Khwaja Garib Nawaz (Benefactor of the Poor, the other name by which the Khwaja is referred to). The tombs of Baba Farid and Hazrat Bata Ganj Baksh are in Pakpattan and Lahore.

Musharraf will return to Jaipur by a helicopter scheduled to take off at 4.55. By then, the members of his entourage who will not accompany him to Ajmer Sharif will have been given a windshield tour of the Pink City.

Musharraf and Sehba will drive by the tanks again on the way to Ghoogra helipad. The dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti has attracted the ruler and the ruled for more than seven centuries since 1236.