Still Going Strong
Addressing and debating global challenges facing India today, the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2012 hosted a single prominent Pakistani personality: former President General (R) Pervez Musharraf, to propose a possible way forward.
The annual Hindustan Times Leadership Summit aims to bring together leaders and thinkers to discuss and deliberate the future of the world and present concrete measures to address the growing challenges that the global community and, India in particular, faces. The Summit hosts leaders from politics, business, law, military, academics, entertainment, sports and the literary world to attend and participate in a high profile, exclusive event. Hindustan Times has a rich history of hosting world leaders who keep pace with an ever-changing world and recognize that today’s problems cannot be solved with yesterday’s assumptions.
The Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2012, held in November this year, revolved around the theme, “What’s Next?” The two-day event hosted panels of experts and addressed an array of issues ranging from India’s domestic politics, environment, foreign relations, technology, education, literature, sports and, of course, the indomitable Bollywood film industry. Prominent speakers included former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra, former U.S Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Chief Minister of Kashmir Omar Abdullah, former Indian diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyer, geo-strategist and author Parag Khanna, cricketers Kapil Dev and Ajay Jadeja and actors Shahrukh Khan and Katrina Kaif, amongst others.
While a spectrum of issues and challenges were debated, Indo-Pak relations were certainly at the fore. And who better to speak on such ties than President Musharraf who did so much during his Presidency to improve relations with India. Delivering the keynote address titled, “Uniting South Asia: the way forward,” Musharraf spoke to a packed audience on the second day of the Summit. His quick wit, confident demeanor and candid comments, instantly won over the crowd despite being introduced as a ‘dictator,’ by moderator and veteran journalist, Karan Thapar.
In his trademark style, to set the record straight, Musharraf calmly responded, “I wasn’t a dictator. Just because you wear a certain dress doesn’t make you one. Dictatorship is a state of mind. I don’t agree I was a dictator... let’s agree to disagree.” Once the air was cleared, Musharraf’s eight years in power were discussed, a resolution on Siachen and Sir Creek was debated and, of course, the elephant in the room: the presence of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil, was ques- tioned. Musharraf vehemently denied the complicity of the ISI and the Army in the matter, stating with a wry sense of humor that, “Even the CIA could not see 9/11 happening. Were they sleeping? You should allow the ISI to sleep once (in a while).”
Speaking on Indo-Pak relations, the former President was hopeful that progress could be made and stressed upon the need for the right niyat, or intention, the need to limit the role of bureaucrats and intelligence agencies and the urgent need of a ‘leadership function’. Speaking on India’s influential position in South Asia, he said, “Compromise should come from the bigger party. India should have a big heart because it is the bigger country. When the smaller party makes the compromise, it can have negative connotations.” As Musharraf’s words reverberated through the audience, Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, could be seen nodding his head in appreciation as the former President departed amidst thundering applause, only to be further swarmed by international and local media persons.
It is ironic that a president who has been absent from power for four years and lives in self-imposed exile in London, continues to attract as much pub-
lic attention in India as he would in Pakistan if he were to return one day. It must be noted that during Musharraf’s tenure, Indo-Pak relations showed considerable thawing and rapidly edged towards diplomatic and political cooperation.
Receiving high-profile protocol from the Indian authorities, Musharraf had no qualms in visiting public venues, such as lunching at the Haldiram Mithai outlet at Connaught Place, and eagerly mingling with locals. The public, from young children to the elderly, instantly recognized him and warmly welcomed him with applause and handshakes. Unlike other “great Pakistani politicians” who confine themselves to opulent surroundings and choose to remain isolated from the general public, Musharraf seems more comfortable when amongst the masses. His reasoning finds its basis in the fact that he is indeed not a bureaucrat or politician but rather a middle-class, army man. Unlike other military figures who have ruled Pakistan for more than half its history, Musharraf’s strong respect and devotion to the Army has instilled a sense of humility in him and a spirit of camaraderie with military men, regardless of borders. This was no more evident, when Musharraf invited his entire security entourage and staff to sit next to him and dine together at Haldiram. Whether it is mingling with the Indian masses or attending a private dinner hosted by the Hindustan Times, Musharraf remains a valid and relevant political personality with increasing clout and influence in the realm of geo-politics.
Disenchanted with the political status quo and not entirely convinced by its future options, some in Pakistan argue that the country “Khan” not afford another experiment but rather needs a leader who is acutely familiar with political diplomacy and harnesses his experience in military strategy. The strategic game in South Asia will rapidly change in the years to come and such leadership traits will be tested. Elections in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are expected to be held within the next two years and will undoubtedly usher in tremendous changes. For its sorry part, the U.S will continue to wage an ideological (and unwinnable) war in Afghanistan, dictated not by the State Department but rather by irresponsible policies recommended by the Pentagon. As NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan by December 2014, whether the country will be able to sustain itself or will momentarily implode, remains uncertain. If not contained, terrorist networks operating within Pakistani borders will deal a severe blow to regional stability and will possibly disrupt peace processes undertaken with both of Pakistan’s neighbors to the East and West.
The Hindustan Times Summit concluded on the note to develop strong leadership equipped to address a myriad of growing challenges faced by India. For their part, Indian policymakers and academics recognized the need to cultivate relations with Pakistan and adopt a multi-dimensional lens to view bilateral ties.
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