90 minutes in an hour of crisis



In the first exclusive one-on-one comments made after the much-awaited Jan 12 speech, General Pervez Musharraf annunciated the parameters he set out for himself, “I wanted to address issues bedeviling Pakistani society and focus on priorities, confront internal problems damaging Pakistan’s image internationally and raise the morale of the Pakistani nation and, lastly, lay out support for the Kashmiri people without it being labelled as cross-border terrorism or compromising Pakistan’s sovereignty and self-respect, i.e. a good enough signal to India that I wanted to pursue the peaceful route in Kashmir but I wanted them to clearly understand that they could not bully us, we were ready to fight if we had to”.

Given not only a national but a world-wide audience, he said “I had no room for vacillation or empty rhetoric, I had my work cut out for me”. A day earlier, the Indians had tried to provoke him (and Pakistan’s manliness) through a rather strange Press Briefing by the Indian COAS Padmanabhan in which he virtually threatened Pakistan with nuclear extermination. Musharraf said, “militarily I can equate my speech as attacking across a minefield to capture vital ground, the danger very much visible from the enemy’s small arms and artillery fire but also the invisible ones like the mines planted just beneath the surface. I had to keep my cool.” With positive reactions flowing in from within the country and from outside, even the Indians gave grudging acceptance. Pervez Musharraf clearly achieved his “vital ground”, credibility in the comity of nations, quite something for any Pakistani leader.

The President said, “the objectives of various Jehadi outfits are individually selfish rather than for the community good, they grandstand for primetime TV and exhorted their followers to fight for the Talibaan but showed discretion to be the better part of valour in not crossing the Durand Line themselves. No effort was made by the religious leaders to secure the safe repatriation of their followers, betrayed by those they had volunteered to support. Many died, many are still missing”. The President added, “this saddened me but solidified my resolve. Extremist rhetoric has done far more damage to Pakistan’s image and credibility than any enemy propaganda or action, their militancy is far more evident within the country than abroad. A vocal, militant minority is holding the great silent majority within the country hostage, net result is the disintegration of the social fabric and a severe dampening of the morale of the vast majority. With our previous leaders disinterested in addressing difficult issues and incompetent in confronting “special interest groups”, this discouraged both their subordinates and the masses. A religious minority were fomenting anarchy in default of good governance, after Sep 11 the world had lost patience with the state of our internal affairs encroaching upon world peace. Above all this was damaging our Kashmir cause,” unquote.

Much of my 90 minutes with the President during this hour of crisis was spent on events and aspirations, a “Primer” in character building and leadership training, the President then talked about, “my passion to succeed, but in a fair manner, resilience to overcome setbacks, motivating subordinates to achieving the necessary aims and objectives, my willingness to work hard, ability to confront challenge, penchant to select capable subordinates and sack the incapable ones, willingness to learn, ability to shun personal ego and pride, and lastly, having the courage to believe in his own destiny,” unquote. When I mentioned his destiny, the President displayed a touch of emotion, from a small marble plaque on his study table he read out the words etched on the surface, the original written one night (11 Aug 98) in his own hand on his official letter pad in Mangla when he was Commander 1 Corps, I quote “MY PRAYER”, “O Allah, The only thing I can promise to my Army and my Nation is sincerity, honesty, integrity and unflinching loyalty. You give me:-

The vision to see and perceive the truth from the false.

The wisdom to comprehend the problem and find a solution.

The courage to speak and project, and the clarity to express the right.

The chance to serve the nation as I deserve” Unquote.

General Musharraf further said, “What passed for democracy in Pakistan earlier was a sham, it permitted all sorts of evil to permeate into the system. Having seen the quality and commitment of the District Nazims, there is hope for the future, the “field test and trials” will be two or three elections after which the system will become feasible. Ultimately the will of the people must be supreme,” unquote. When I mentioned my favourite idea “run-off” elections, he said, “Gen Naqvi had also recommended it, the only drawback is the expense factor (of another election) will favour the richer candidate, but I will give it more consideration,” When US President Abraham Lincoln’s name cropped up, he brought out an extract from Richard Nixon from his book “Leaders”. He read, “Lincoln’s consuming passion during the time of crisis (the American Civil War 1861-65) was to preserve the Union. “Towards that end he trampled individual liberties. His justification was necessity. Explaining his sweeping violation of constitutional limits, Abraham Lincoln wrote in a letter in 1864: My oath to preserve the Constitution imposed on me the duty of preserving by every indispensable means that government, that nation, of which the Constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation and yet preserve the Constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected, yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life, but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground and now avow it” unquote. Pervez Musharraf laughingly hoped that this would not be misconstrued, “The period after Oct 12, 2002 is of great concern to me, not only to maintain the momentum of reforms enacted but to sustain continuity. I want to strike the right balance so that the system can not be manipulated by any individual’s discretion for his own selfish, personal motives. I am confident about taking bold decisions, “because I have no skeletons in my cupboard, I can look you in the eye!”, unquote.

“I have to be very conscious of the country’s interest”, the President said, “I have to be very careful what I discuss with world leaders because they will carry an image of the country back with them. There will be great damage to the nation if anyone carries an unfavorable opinion of the country’s leader. Since I need to have good knowledge I am not embarrassed to learn from my colleagues about issues that I myself have no prior knowledge or understanding of, not only in domestic but of international affairs”.

He talked affectionately about the (very best!) 29th PMA Long Course and his course-mates. He said, “I set out tough physical and mental goals for myself and my men in the SSG, I carried out very hard training. The very first inkling I had of my destiny was the love that my men fostered on me,” unquote. Some incidents long forgotten, including one as OC ship of M V “Rostam” bringing his SSG (Kamal) Company back from Chittagong to Karachi in 1968. An Instructor in Command & Staff College, Quetta and later at National Defence College (NDC), Rawalpindi, he was surprised that Brig Saeed Ismat, SJ (from 31st PMA), his student at NDC, had marked him as far back as 1988 as the man to watch for the future (indeed Saeed is not given to praise easily). Saeed was not alone, with some difficulty I managed from the President a copy of the Report by the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) UK. Self-confident leader and man of destiny, Pervez Musharraf was visibly embarrassed. The detailed remarks of his instructor Maj Gen N G P Ansell I will quote separately, the concurring remarks (in 1991) by the then Commandant, General Sir Antony Walker, about Brig Pervez Musharraf, “A capable, articulate and extremely personable officer, who made a most valuable impact here. His country is fortunate to have the services of a man of his undeniable quality.” The British do not give praise easily. Gen Musharraf said, “Look at how much of a coincidence was the subject I chose to write on (in 1990) during in my stay RCDS, “the impact which the Indo-Pakistan Arms Race has in impeding sorely needed socio-economic development on the sub-continent, and sought a remedy,” maybe I had a premonition that I would be explaining this to Indian leaders one day”.

With all his undeniable sterling qualities, even the Quaid would have been hard put to manage the 21st century crisis Pakistan is facing. Pervez Musharraf says “I have stood up remarkably well to untold internal and external pressures because I know that Pakistan depends on me”. His has been a steady hand on the ship of State. With the aura of a remarkable 90 minutes with this soldier (and now statesman) enveloping me as I left his house, I was in no doubt I was leaving the presence of greatness. I do not know what the future holds for Pakistan é or for Gen Pervez Musharraf. From being somewhat of a cynic I have become a believer. This man means something to Pakistan. He is no Jinnah, but he is an original by himself and in the future he will be in his own right, a Musharraf.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).