By Ahmad Faruqui
It was January 1980. Just 11 months earlier, the Shah of Iran had been deposed. The King of Kings, who traced his lineage back to Cyrus the Great, had celebrated 25 centuries of Persian monarchy in the ruins of the imperial capital at Persepolis in October 1971.
A hundred million dollars were spent on entertaining and hosting dignitaries from around the globe. Cooks flown in from Maxim’s of Paris served up a dinner featuring peacock breast. The man who claimed that he had launched a white revolution from the Peacock Throne now sat in an ordinary chair in Panama facing David Frost, the British talk show host. Frost asked the Shah about the crimes against humanity that had been committed by the Savak. Without blinking an eyelid, the Shah stated that he did not know that his secret police had tortured anyone. The fact that he had created an authoritarian state in which such acts were de rigueur did not bother him.
In May 1977, former US President Richard Nixon, a great friend of the Shah, was sitting across from David Frost in scenic southern California. Three years prior, Nixon had resigned in the wake of political outrage triggered by the Watergate scandal. The climax came when Frost asked Nixon if had broken the law by covering up the burglary to which Nixon replied, ‘Well, when the president does it that means it is not illegal.’ He went on to cite a statement that President Lincoln had made during the Civil War: ‘Actions which would be unconstitutional, could become lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the Constitution and the Nation.’ Frost gasped and stated that there was no parallel between the crisis facing Lincoln and the crisis facing Nixon. It has been more than a year since Gen Pervez Musharraf removed his vaunted ‘second skin’, the army uniform, and almost a year since he resigned as president. He is busy globetrotting as a celebrity, commanding speaking fees in the $100,000 to 200,000 range. In the speeches, he talks of how Pakistan is a moderate Muslim state that is vigorously pursuing the fight against terrorism and consequently deserves financial aid on an unprecedented scale from the world at large. But no one has yet put some really tough questions to him about his role in mismanaging the war on terror. Would it not be nice if Frost, who is now working for Al Jazeera, were to put a few questions to the former general in a globally televised event? Here is a ‘thought experiment’ on what that conversation may sound like.
Frost: It is said of the Emperor Augustus that he found Rome made of clay and left it made of marble. You ruled Pakistan for eight years and commanded the army for nine. Yet some people argue that the strategic culture of the nation was more toxic when you left the scene than when you had arrived on the scene. What do you say to them?Musharraf: During my tenure, we had unprecedented economic growth. We laid the foundation of one of four mega dams that were to bring energy and water independence to Pakistan and we completed Phase I of the new port of Gwadar. We held elections and began a transition to real democracy. We stabilised relations with India and were on the verge of signing a peace accord on Kashmir. And we arrested more terrorists than any other country. These are no mean accomplishments. Frost: If things were that good, why did you declare a state of emergency on the Nov 3, 2007?
Musharraf: Certain misguided and disgruntled political elements engaged in a conspiracy to bring down my government. They created a threat to law and order and left me with no choice but to break the law. Frost: But the people in the vanguard of the movement were the country’s leading jurists and barristers.
Musharraf: If you are suggesting they were honourable men, I don’t buy that for a second. They were furthering their own personal political agendas. I also suspect a foreign hand was behind the movement to depose me.
Frost: You continue to talk of enlightened moderation. But you led the extremists to war against India at Kargil and until pressured by the US after 9/11, you did nothing to rein them in. A few years later, you were still defending the freedom fighters in Kashmir. Later, you modified this position and said you would go after foreign terrorists. You were simply unwilling to see that terror was a homegrown problem. Now that the Taliban are less than 100 miles from Islamabad, do you still see terror as a foreign problem?
Musharraf: I did more to counter terrorism than any other leader, whether in Pakistan or abroad. And I have always maintained that we have to get to the root of the problem that turns people into terrorists or we will lose this war.
Frost: You seem to suggest that if people have a political problem, they have a right to carry out terrorist attacks. Isn’t the root problem the culture of fighting proxy wars that the Pakistani military had inculcated in the myriad extremist groups it has funded and armed? Musharraf: No, I disagree completely. The army has done more for the country than any other institution. It has never let the people down. It has only intervened politically when national survival demanded it. And, in my view, to keep the army out, we have to bring the army in.
During the Frost interviews, Nixon found himself on trial in the court of public opinion. President Ford’s pardon had shielded him from undergoing a judicial trial. Since he has friends in high places, it is unlikely that Musharraf will be tried in a court of law for his crimes against the constitution.
But the people of Pakistan have a right to know what really happened during the Musharraf tenure. They need to understand that the major problems the country is going through today are a legacy of his rule in which all political institutions were demolished. If that link is not established, the nation will simply be inviting another coup.
It would be good if Frost, or someone like him, took on this assignment of having a comprehensive and thorough interview with the general.The author is an associate of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford