Nirupama Subramanian

There is already a buzz about Pervez Musharraf's soon-to-be-released autobiography,In the Line of Fire.

IN THIS season of autobiographies in the sub-continent, President Pervez Musharraf's In the Line of Fire is eagerly awaited. According to reports, publishers Simon & Schuster are set to release the book in the United States at the end of September.

The only other Pakistani leader to write an autobiography was General Ayub Khan. Its title Friends Not Masters was supposed to reflect the general's frustration over U.S. policies towards Pakistan. But as one wit remarked, "Friends Not, Masters" might have been a better title for the book.

Ayub Khan was Pakistan's first military ruler. He seized power in a bloodless coup in 1958 and became the President after an election in 1961. At the time he ousted President Iskander Mirza, who had appointed him martial law administrator a few days earlier, he was actually welcomed by the people, who were tired of feuding politicians and wanted an efficient administrator. His ghost-written autobiography came out in 1968, when he was still in office, and when his popularity was at an all-time low. Within a year, he would hand over power to another general, Yahya Khan, amid violent street protests against his rule.

Autobiographies are mostly written when the person concerned is no longer in office, and has the luxury of time, introspection and hindsight. Even so, most such works offer justifications more than honest self-analysis. An autobiography written while the person is still in office becomes an even more tricky proposition.

Ayub Khan acknowledges this in the preface of Friends Not Masters. "Apart from the limitations imposed by the consciousness of responsibility there is always the danger that any suggestion of success would be interpreted as an attempt at image-building."

For this reason, Ayub Khan credited "all that has been achieved" to his team. There was no mention of failures or shortcomings. Certainly nothing about the 1965 war with India, that proved the turning point of his rule, and that many in Pakistan have described as a "misadventure."

Cut to 2006. President Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, was initially welcomed by the Pakistani intelligentsia which had tired of corrupt politicians and was impressed by his offer of a clean administration. But after seven years in power, most of which he has spent walking a tight-rope between the religious Right and the U.S., the general has been honest enough to admit his popularity has eroded. An election is coming up next year. The opposition has ganged up against him. What revelations will this autobiography contain?

One thing is sure. President Musharraf does not need a "mole" controversy for his book to become a bestseller. It is enough that he has been at the helm of affairs in Pakistan in the tumultuous years since 9/11. Just the contradictions that Pakistan has lived through and experienced in this period are enough. As the well-known journalist Zaffar Abbas wrote recently in the newsmagazine Herald, the book could prove to be a big draw if it gives insight into the enigmatic character of General Musharraf.

"There is hardly anyone who can say with authority that he or she knows the real Musharraf. Here, I am not even talking about the shenanigans of his private life because that is no one's business. I'm talking about Musharraf the general, the army chief, the President, the architect of Kargil, the coup-maker, the Taliban supporter, and at later stage, the biggest opponent of Islamic militancy and extremism, the courageous advocate of peace with India, the man who is liberal at heart and wants to promote women's rights but can often falter on issues like the one involving Mukhtaran Mai."

There is added interest in the book after the recent publication of a biography of Nawaz Sharif, whom General Musharraf ousted to seize power. Gaddar Kaun? (Who is the real traitor?) penned by a journalist gave a detailed account of how General Musharraf had hatched the Kargil plot without taking Mr. Sharif into confidence. In the Line of Fire may hit back at Mr. Sharif.

The publishers reportedly paid President Musharraf an advance of $1 million. Ayub Khan's book was written by a journalist-turned-bureaucrat. General Musharraf's book has reportedly been put together by a team, "skilled in the art of rewriting," including a member of his military staff.

The Daily Times lamented that at Pakistani Rs.1,932, the book will be out of the reach of many in this country. But bookshops do not seem as worried.

"We are anticipating massive sales of the book," said Mohammed Yusuf, owner of one of Islamabad's most famous bookstores, Mr. Books. He added a consolation for those who might not be able to afford it: "Maybe the price will be subsidised."