‘Our govern­ment was the most demo­cratic.’

Gen­eral (R) Pervez Mushar­raf speaks to SouthAsia. (This in­ter­view was con­ducted be­fore hos­pi­tal­iza­tion of Gen­eral Mushar­raf).

Southasia - - COVER STORY -

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.

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