‘Our government was the most democratic.’
General (R) Pervez Musharraf speaks to SouthAsia. (This interview was conducted before hospitalization of General Musharraf).
How do you justify your November 3, 2007 action?
Whatever I did was for the betterment of my country. I took steps that I thought would benefit the country. As for the constitution and the rule of law, both should be upheld – no two opinions about it. But if faced with a situation where I have to choose between saving the country and saving the constitution, I will save the country. I will do this a hundred times over. This is what my military training has inculcated in me. My institution has taught me to fight and fight I will. I am not afraid of anyone.
Both on October 12 and November 3, I was faced with a dilemma. I had limited options and had to make crucial decisions about the direction the country would take. It was the future of Pakistan that hung in the balance. I could have simply left like others did. But I did not. I felt responsible for my country and did what I thought was the right thing to do.
You have faced many cases and have been granted bail in all of them. But this latest case of high treason has taken a turn for the worse. Are you prepared to face it?
I am convinced about one thing. I have done no wrong. Even if I have made errors of judgment, those were just that: errors. It was not my intent to harm my country, my people and the institution I belonged to. Whatever I did, it was with the best of intentions. So I will face the situation. In the ultimate analysis I believe that right should triumph and I have an inner conviction that I was right.
How do you feel about the fact that those who supported General Ziaul Haq and his rule and who are often termed as Gen. Zia’s remnants want to prosecute you for violation of the constitution?
What can I say about this volteface in some of our politicians’ thinking? It just surprises me. It only shows their real character. It exposes them.
Many people warned you against returning to Pakistan. There are reports that even the army leadership tried to talk you out of it. But you returned anyway. Why?
When I took over in October 1999, the country was going through a bad phase. Our economic performance was dismal. We were technically a defaulted state and were at the verge of being declared a failed state. You can verify this by looking at the economic indicators of that time. During the nine years of our governance, the economy flourished and the country prospered. These are not mere hollow-sounding claims. These are verifiable facts. Where is the economy now? Isn’t it near collapse? When we were running the country, I realized the potential we have, the natural resources we have been blessed with. If there is an able leadership at the helm, it can turn the country around without any monetary assistance from the outside world. But see where we are today.
It was the country’s condition that forced me to leave my comfortable life abroad and come to Pakistan. I voluntarily came to serve Pakistan. It’s true that people tried to convince me not to return but how could I leave my country in the lurch? People told me I would put my life in danger if I returned to Pakistan. But I did return because I firmly believed that my country needed me. It has given me everything.
Your circle of friends, both local and international, is quite wide. You have strong ties with some of the most influential people in the world - people who matter in international politics. Do you think they will help you get out of this situation?
It is true that I have many an important people among my friends. As a former President of Pakistan, I was held in esteem and always given so much respect and protocol wherever I went in the world. My well-wishers must be concerned about me. But when I was returning to Pakistan, I did not ask anyone to look out for me. If they do anything, it is out of their own concern for my safety and well-being, not because I asked them to do it.
Do you regret your decision to give a free hand to the media that has now turned against you?
I do not regret my decision but I am disappointed with the role the media has been playing - but that happens in most developing countries. Let me tell you, it was my personal decision to give freedom to the media. A free and fair media was my dream because I believed that a country could not progress in the absence of an independent media. I considered it necessary for the country’s growth.
Now it greatly pains me to see the media making issues out of nonissues. They seem to be ignoring the core issues of governance and are getting bogged down in abstract notions of democracy and dictatorship. The people of Pakistan want good governance which looks after their welfare and development of the country. The media ought to focus on the welfare of the people - poverty alleviation, job creation, education and health. It should also openly debate the development of the country - its economy, agriculture, water management, energy, industry, IT, and telecom, etc. Based on such data, which is easily available, a comparison of performance of various leaders and governments should be done.
Even if the media wants to discuss democracy and dictatorship, then our government ( 2002-2007), a duly elected government, was as democratic as many a government in the world. We were democratic in the true sense. Democracy is all about empowering the people and we delegated power to the people by introducing local government. We gave freedom to the media. Doesn’t that count as empowering the people?
What will be the impact of the treason case on the army? Will it demoralize the armed forces?
If justice is not done to a former army chief, it can affect the army’s morale. If the case has merit, the army probably wouldn’t be affected by its outcome. As far as I am concerned, the cases against me reek of personal vendetta. I am facing cases for incidents that happened years ago. Take the example of the Lal Masjid case. The incident took place in 2007 while a case was filed against me in 2013, after about sixyears.
The Peshawar High Court disqualified me from contesting elections for life. My election papers were rejected in all the four constituencies I was contesting from because the tribunal did not consider me ‘Sadiq’and ‘ Ameen’. Can the same tribunal guarantee that all the legislators sitting in the assemblies are ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’?
You have been accused of surrendering to the U.S. after one phone call from Colin Powell. How true is that?
This is a totally fabricated account. What actually happened was that I received a call from the then Secretary of State Colin Powell while I was in Karachi. He briefed me about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and asked if Pakistan would be on the side of countries fighting terrorism. My answer was in the positive because I always believed that we must fight terrorism. I went to Islamabad two days later where the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan met me and gave me a seven-point agenda. Let me make it clear that we hadn’t given any answer to the U.S. by that time. We got back to them some three days later after going through the agenda. We agreed on some conditions and rejected others.
What we need to understand is the fact that it was not a U.S. war. The attack on Afghanistan was launched only when the UN Security Council, after endorsement of all the countries of the world, sanctioned it. Going against it meant going against the entire world. All the countries that share friendly ties with us, China and the Gulf States, for example, had unanimously adopted the UNSC resolution. Our government did what was in the best interest of the country and was supported by a vast majority of stakeholders interested in the uplift of the country.
It is also said that you gave permission for drone strikes.
To say that I gave permission for drone attacks is rubbish. It is entirely false. The fact is, during our time, hardly seven or eight drone attacks were conducted. Even then I protested against them. My protest was so strong that many people advised me to tone it down.