Jemima Inteview President Musharraf

Jemima and MusharrafPublished in The Independent, it is definitely worth reading.

‘Since you were so kind as to greet us in London at Downing Street last month, the President would like to return the favour,” announces Major-General Rashid Qureshi, President Pervez Musharraf’s PR man over the phone. Only in Pakistan could the government’s head of spin be a retired major-general. He is referring to my last encounter with the President on 28 January when, along with a 2,000-strong, placard-waving, slogan-jeering mob, I protested on the main road outside 10 Downing Street while Musharraf discussed democracy with Gordon Brown over lunch inside. On the way in he waved at us. Clearly he’s a man who is not afraid of confrontation. Much to the justifiable fury of every journalist in Islamabad, he has now granted me an exclusive half-hour interview despite or perhaps because of the fact that I have recently described him as one of the most repressive dictators Pakistan has ever known.

On the way to the Camp Office in Rawalpindi, I cross the bridge and pass the petrol station, which mark the spots of two recent attempts on the life of the now deeply unpopular President. I have a horrible fear that, bamboozled under the spotlight of his renowned charm, I may start to simper. My ex-husband, one of the President’s most vocal critics, has already told me he thinks this is all a terrible idea. “It will be misinterpreted in Pakistan. Besides, you’ll be too soft on him,” he said.

The Camp Office turns out to be an old colonial building which used to be the HQ of the northern command under the British. With its delicately carved, wooden, double-height ceilings, sweeping central staircase, marble floors and ornate carpets, it’s not hard to see why the President chose this as his private office in Rawalpindi. His residence is just up the driveway.

A dozen straight-backed men in uniform red waistcoats over starched cream kurtas are ready to greet me outside. The President, I’m informed, is not quite ready so I am led to the staff office for a “tea break” with a group of army officers who make up his presidential office team. Musharraf’s personal assistant, a dashing, grey-haired, light-eyed naval commander, and a jovial head of security, also a young army officer, joke that the delay is just an excuse for them to do a little preparatory brainwashing.
My ex-husband, Imran Khan told me “It will be misinterpreted in Pakistan. Besides, you’ll be too soft on him,”
A bright yellow cake, some intimidating-looking chicken vol-au-vents and chai (milky tea) are wheeled in. Major Qureshi, Musharraf’s Alastair Campbell, tucks in happily and regales me for an hour with stories about Soviet-era Pakistani military triumphs and the magnanimity and general excellence of his boss. “Any country in the world would like to have this person as their leader,” he tells us proudly.

After an hour I am shown into a huge sitting room, divided in the middle by a latticed wood screen to segregate ladies from men at more formal functions. Musharraf enters. The last time I saw him in the flesh he was in his full army regalia. Somehow his civilian clothes have diminished him. I find his brown business suit and dainty penny loafers which have replaced the sturdy army boots almost unsettling. He seems to have lost both height and swagger. And his body language seems just a touch defensive. The immaculate hair also troubles me. Boot-polish black, artfully grey at the temples, it shows signs of some work.

I start the interview on an unfortunate note. “Given that the last time you saw me, I was protesting outside No 10, I’m grateful that you’ve granted me this opportunity. It’s quite a coup.” Bad word. There’s a moment’s silence while it hangs in the air.

The President, it turns out, is very disappointed in me. For a moment I think I have been called to his office for a sound ticking-off. “I was disappointed. Very disappointed,” he says. “I was disappointed because you ought to be knowing our environment … what Pakistanis are like … what is our society. Well, it’s acceptable if a person has never visited Pakistan and doesn’t know Pakistan to have ideal views [presumably, he means idealistic views]. But I thought you ought to be knowing what Pakistan is … This is not an ideal society.”

He goes on. Mindful that I have only limited time and that there’s a man in uniform sitting at the back of the room already checking his watch before I’ve even asked my first question, I politely interrupt. I remind him that when I first met him he too was an idealist. There is strange symmetry to this visit. I last met Musharraf three days before the last elections in 2002. And now here I am, five and a half years on, three days before elections on Monday. Back then, especially when Musharraf first came to power, I was a somewhat naive supporter. Selfishly, I was relieved when he succeeded came to power by military coup on 12 October 1999. Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister he deposed, had tried to have me jailed on trumped-up, politically motivated charges of smuggling a non-bailable offence in Pakistan.

I suspect it was to intimidate my ex-husband, who at that time was a noisy critic. I had scarpered to London before I could be arrested and was able to return with my two children to Pakistan six months later only after Musharraf seized power and the charges against me were duly dropped. More importantly, though, Musharraf took over with the express aim of cleaning up Pakistani politics. He despised the corrupt politicians as much as anyone. He immediately set up his own national accountability bureau and declared that his mission was to hold the corrupt accountable.

I’m also disappointed, I tell him. The corrupt got off scot-free. And now it looks as though he will shortly be doing business with the very same politicians he wanted to get rid of.

Disarmingly he agrees something he does a lot of. And I sense it’s genuine rather than appeasement. He argues that he had no other choice but to deal with the existing leaders of the main parties. This is a little disingenuous. The national reconciliation ordinance which he passed in October 2007 effectively guaranteed lifelong immunity from prosecution to corrupt politicians such as Benazir Bhutto, her husband Zardari and others, and enabled her to return to Pakistan to contest elections. He asks if he is being recorded. I say yes. He hesitates, then answers tellingly, “Yes, I agree with you [that charges should not have been dropped]. But then Benazir has good contacts abroad in your country, who thought she was the future of the country.”

I press him further. Surely even in spite of pressure from outside, given his feelings about the effects of corruption on Pakistani politics, those charges should never have been dropped. There should have been a proper judicial process.

I put this to him. “No,” he replies, “because they would have all joined and then I would have been out.” At this point he looks a bit wild eyed. He quickly adds that, of course, being in power has never been his ultimate goal. How much easier it would be, he adds wistfully and a touch unconvincingly, if he’d just resigned to play golf.

A uniformed bearer offers fruit juice and warm roasted almonds. I down my juice in one gulp, then worry it may have looked unseemly. In the past four years I’d forgotten that Pakistani women are expected to overplay their femininity. I’m lounging like a bloke and downing pomegranate juice like lager.

Often he fails to see the irony in his own words, which can be unintentionally comic. Several times I have to suppress a smile. When confronted with the suggestion, for example, that he will have to work with a coalition government consisting of some the most infamous crooks in Pakistan, he responds with great sincerity, “I’m not running a martial law here. What can I do?” He adds, “My role as a president is simply the checks and balances the seatbelts … a sort of father figure to the Prime Minister but I won’t have to see him for weeks.”

The image he paints of himself as a benign, legitimised dictator is at odds with the recent Human Rights Watch report that accuses his regime of hundreds of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, harassment, intimidation and extrajudicial killings

Later when I point out that his old opponent Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), has vowed that if elected he will reinstate the judges who were unconstitutionally deposed by Musharraf, he retorts incredulously, “It is not a dictatorship here! How can you reinstate judges if you become prime minister? How?” This rhetorical question comes from a man who on 3 November dismissed 60 per cent of the superior court judges, including three chief justices, in anticipation of their ruling against his re-election as President while still head of the army. Many remain under house arrest.

He seems to be someone who feels painfully let down and misunderstood. This is particularly the case when he talks about my ex-husband, Imran. “You know, I liked him. But he is the most unrealistic person. I wanted to support him.” He mentions him a few times in the interview. And the strange thing is, I detect hurt. President Musharraf, dictator, despot, guardian of the West against al-Qa’ida and all I can see are the wounded eyes of a betrayed lover when he talks about my ex. Under his regime, in the past year, Imran has been held under house arrest, jailed, then released and has had his movements restricted. Hell hath no fury like a general scorned.

I change the subject. Last time I visited him here in Rawalpindi he gave me a spookily accurate prediction of the imminent election results, which suggested information more than insight. Who will win this election? His answer is definitive. The PML-Q (the party otherwise known as the King’s Party, assembled by President Musharraf himself six years ago to legitimise his “managed” democracy) allied with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement will “certainly have the majority. Whether they’ll be able to form a government is a question mark.” This contradicts all the recent opinion polls, which have shown that the popularity of his favoured party is right down, at just 12 per cent. I point out this out to him.

He dismisses the polls. They are biased, conducted by local organisations that are against him. “They have been abusing me right from the beginning and you will never get good results from them.”

He seems increasingly paranoid. “The media have let me down … The NGOs are against me. I don’t know why. I think I have been the strongest proponent of human rights …” In fact, the only people who are not against him, according to him, are the Western leaders who he says are “absolutely supportive” and “express total solidarity”.

I don’t doubt Musharraf’s bravery or even his initial good intentions. Nor is anyone underestimating the scale of the problems that Pakistan faces today.
“It will be the saddest day for Pakistan if Benazirs crooked widower is in power by Monday, I say. Musharraf reponds “At least we part on agreement.
If anything, the impression is one of amateurishness and of a naivety that would be endearing if it had not been so profoundly damaging to his country. And in recent months he has become belligerent with local journalists. In London last month a respected Pakistani editor was castigated for asking about Rashid Rauf, the escaped terror suspect, and the fact that many believe he was deliberately freed by the police. Such impertinent journalists “should be roughed up”, he was alleged to have told the assembled crowds in response.

When I ask about the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who is still under house arrest, he denounces him as “the scum of the earth a third-rate man a corrupt man”. And the lawyers’ movement? The lawyers have vowed to continue protesting on the streets and boycotting the courts until the deposed judges are reinstated and the constitution is restored to its pre-3 November status. “With hindsight,” he replies solemnly, “it was my personal error that I allowed them to go and express their views in the street… We should have controlled them in the beginning before it got out of control.” To those more used to seeing beards and white robes at protests, the images of suited, bookish-looking lawyers fighting off police batons were a memorable spectacle.

Musharraf mentions democracy a great deal. He seems sincere. He is genuinely likeable. But it seems he just can’t help himself. You can take the general out of the army but not the army out of the general. It reminds me of the Aesop fable about the scorpion and the frog. The frog gives the scorpion, who cannot swim, a lift across the river. Halfway across, the scorpion stings him. “Why did you do that?” asks the frog. “Now we’ll both die.” “I’m a scorpion; it’s my nature.”

As I leave he presents me with a clock inscribed “from the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. It seems an inauspicious gift from a man whose time may be up. He shakes my hand. “It will be the saddest day for Pakistan if Benazir’s crooked widower is in power by Monday,” I say. As the President walks away, he looks back. “At least we part on agreement.”



27 responses to “Jemima Inteview President Musharraf”

  1. Nighat Khan Avatar
    Nighat Khan

    great Jemima you and the dictator are in sync. We are bombarded with Musharaf’s point of view on PTV and the rest of nuetered media 24/7 why you must for some odd reason give him the respect to interview him.
    I am absolutely flabberghasted at his comments about us and our society. It is sickening to hear him in front of western keen listeners.
    Man is delusional to the core and those around him (Qureshi) feed to his delusions of grandeur day in and out.

  2. Nighat Khan Avatar
    Nighat Khan

    great Jemima you and the dictator are in sync. We are bombarded with Musharaf’s point of view on PTV and the rest of nuetered media 24/7 why you must for some odd reason give him the respect to interview him.
    I am absolutely flabberghasted at his comments about us and our society. It is sickening to hear him in front of western keen listeners.
    Man is delusional to the core and those around him (Qureshi) feed to his delusions of grandeur day in and out. I am also insulted at your description of Pakistani women flaunting their feminity in public. There are thousands of professional hard working Pakistani women. Perhaps your ex-husband was right this time

  3. nazia Avatar

    Jemima has earned popularity for standing against dictatorship rule but such kind of typical interview at this critical momenet is surprise for all of us whom are reading her articles in british media for last years.She has some plans or gains in her mind that would surely be clear with the passage of time.There is nothing new in her interview except the frustrated lines of mussarf for civic society.So I can say to mussarf that civic society is not like his JCO’s whose become afraid of his uniform or orders.They are simple saying you that you are a failed ruler.


    Good interview that once again proves the madness of this man.

    Calling the Chief Justice ‘the scum of the earth’ is just one example, how can a President of any country stoop so low?

    But tick tick, as the clock ticks he will soon find his days are numbered, his fall from grace is a certainity and he will not see March 08 I believe, so Goodbye Mush!

  5. Atif Abdul-Rahman Avatar

    U have once again filled a cavity by this post. The gap between speculation and guilt admitted by the man himself when he says here:

    “Yes, I agree with you [that charges should not have been dropped]. But then Benazir has good contacts abroad in your country, who thought she was the future of the country”

    I wonder how much supported mr.10percent has from the USGov….?

  6. ?? Avatar

    The interview would have been better if Jemima was more pointed with her questions and less concerned with being ‘bamboozled’ by Musharraf’s charms.

    After all those statements that Musharraf gave, she still finds him ‘genuinely likeable’?

  7. Raza Avatar

    An interesting interview indeed. How conveniently he’s assigned himself the role of the keeper of “checks and balances”, he’s making the entire country go down the drain as every corrupt man is back contesting the elections.

  8. murad khan Avatar
    murad khan

    I wish Jemima had asked him about the rationale of keeping Aitzaz Ahsan, Tariq Mahmood & Ali Kurd in detention.
    Now I know what the term ‘dumb blonde’ means!

  9. Zovc Avatar

    I like the tone, shes desprate to make this man look good.

  10. Saleem Toor Avatar
    Saleem Toor

    At the age of 66 and after five years of “imprisonment” in the camp-office by his aides (due to security reasons), I doubt Mr. Musharraf’s very rhetoric let alone his decisions. He is so disconnected from the ground realities, from the perceptions. The gentleman, who cannot win a seat in the general elections, is ironically our President, elected through a farce referendum and sustained through destruction of the constitution and the very institutions of army and judiciary.

    A corrupt politician is far better than a dictator, because s/he is bound to some level of accountability which the dictator is not.

  11. Obi Wan Kenobi Avatar
    Obi Wan Kenobi

    Awesome interview. Mush has an integrity.

  12. M@ni Avatar

    Well one should understand Jemima came to pakistan as a reporter and she is bound to respect the “president of a country”. She still bravely criticized Mush in the extremes she can do by using the Sarcastic tone. Her interview has already started the chamchaa’s (spoon) of mush to give clarifications. I really appreciate Jemima for writing her great piece of work with alot of constraints being applied

  13. farhan Avatar

    these “iftikhar and jalii lawyers company” took the oath in 2000 , under the p.c.o how on this earth they justified to be the supreme court judges??? the only true judges are those who refused to take oath in 2000.if taking oath under pco is wrong then all the civil society should not stand for these corrupt lawyers.

  14. z Avatar

    If the judges now realize their mistake, why are we all out to doubt them in their stand? They set a precedent by not taking the oath under the current PCO, when the main aim of the coup was to get rid of the judiciary. Many werent even invited for taking oath. The Civil society is with the Independence of Judiciary, and without getting those judges back who were trying to rule according to the constitution, we’re bound to face problems in any future democratic order.

  15. MK Avatar

    thumbs up to Jemima.
    Mush has proved yet again that he is a mad man. a true dictator to his core. a person not loyal to his country even though he once was the head of the armed forces.
    Also that benazir was working on a foreign agenda. She would have given up the nuclear programme of the country had she come in power.

  16. dreamer Avatar

    very intresting to see the ‘good side’ of Musharraf. Sad to see that Ms.Jemima feels that rules & ethics about democracy are believed to be only for the western countries and not for us ‘peasants’ who are too unappreciative of the great general/president(his actions keep me confused). If heroes like justice Ifthikhar are ‘scum of the earth’ then i think that the prez is pretty confused… infact delusional. Why didnt he have this very same opinion of him earlier when he made the CJ. And is he trying to say that all 60 judges are corrupt traitors???? and people like Malik Qayum, mohd. Ali Durrani, tariq azeem are morally upstanding men??? seems that the prez only has good opinion of those who are ‘pro mush’ to the core and only those men are true Pakistanis.We as Pakistani citizens must ask ourselves that a person who has appointed 60 so called corrupt judges (not to mention several other massive blunders, along with inhumane house arrest of the judges and their innocent families), is such a man capable of leading this country in this volatile day and age?

  17. nabeel Avatar

    musharaf is the best ever president Pakistan has ever had..i appreciate what he has done for country and trying to change the mindset of Pakistanis who vote for person rather than the party and what they stand would take a few more elections for people to understand what vote really means..all who criticize musharaf should be honest to themselves..single murder and corruption case hasn’t came forward at musharaf he is mush honest and and loyal to the country as compare to any other politician in the country..

  18. Zovc Avatar

    nabeel wait till he leaves his seat, he has done a lot of corruption i.e. stealmill and other priv. He was the president and COAS and head of ruling party, i doubt anyone would file corruption charges against him.

  19. JinnahFan Avatar

    What a stupid interview; Musharraf’s allowance of an exclusive interview to an amateur FOREIGN “journalist” and the idiotic comments posted here prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the colonial mindset still prevails in Pakistan.

    I’m not surprised at her pathetic comments about Benazir.

  20. AJM Avatar

    It is so shameful to see people of this country having more respect and value for the foreign media people whether they are known or anyone pretending to be one. Only people with no soul, no moral will say and do things like what is being said on this forum, dont know when will we show some decency of being a human since being a Pakistani is far fetched for us, we are first a servants of BB, Nawaz Sharif and than we belong to PPP, MQM, PML etc, than we are sindhis, Punjabis, muhajirs etc, and finally we are drum beaters for our so called restrained judges and “laiers, why should we be interested in the Pakistan, what is that, oh meaning the land we have conquered and occupied now we have to loot as much as possible and as soon as possible since any time UN may intervene and ask us to leave. I dont expect any decency from people having negative comments on this forum, and with no respect for the office of the president of Pakistan because of the facts I explained above. They think only solution is to get rid of President Musharraf and things will be ok, come on give me a break, I agree things are not so gloomy and may be the out look also not very good, but one giving such solutions can not satisfy any one any more without reasoning and analyzing the situation with the alternates.

    It is time for the middle class of this country to rise and start claiming whats their RIGHT, these politicians will blabber for hours for the rights of us the citizens of Pakistan and how they will protect it but THEY WILL NEVER TELL US WHAT OUR RIGHTS ARE.
    Lets talk about the role of the media, it is a powerful tool to educate the masses, and specially Pakistani population where we have majority illiterate, uneducated and the only way they get the information for them is what they see or hear, my question to the media is that, when they say that there is a ban or restrictions on the media, what do they exactly mean by that? Is it that they are not allowed to spread chaos in the public now? They are not allowed to have anti Pakistani discussions on their shows anymore? They are not allowed to spread only negativism in the society? Is this what they are wanting and mean by freedom of media and press???????? I have seen live what happened at one of the TV station on May 12th last year and also noticed the anchor how he twisted the reality that day and what drama he created and I also saw a little interview he gave to CNN few days ago. Now when I comment on the events of May 12th with the angle I have described above, I will be labeled as a sympathizer and a member of MQM. When will we start taking the responsibilities as a Pakistani for the things? When will the media start reporting news instead of analyzing? Giving angels to events? When will they stop coming to conclusions without investigating and passing judgments over events?

    Question to friends, is this the media looks like all chained up here in Pakistan only for the reasons that they are not allowed to create chaos and anarchy in the country ?????????

  21. Asim Avatar

    I still believe Musharraf is the best option for Pakistan during these difficult times. He has the guts to give interviews to people who are against him and answer all the difficult questions as well …. that to me shows the person is honest and has nothing to hide unlike Benazir or Nawaz.

  22. Zunaira Avatar

    Well, I see Musharaf as a really confused politician in this interview.
    “If anything, the impression is one of amateurishness and of a naivety that would be endearing if it had not been so profoundly damaging to his country.”

    I don’t know about the credibility of this interview but it sure was an interesting one. Besides,

  23. Bakhtyar Ali Khan Avatar

    musaraf is a great politicion he spended his eight years life in the devolopment of pakistan i expect to president musharaf he was he is and he will be a great and talant politic person of the future.he want to finished the crices and clean our countery from the tararesiom so that,s why the other political parties are not like to him. becuase the other parties not want to devolopment of i pray to Allah taht to safe the president from the tarareist persons. i am Bakhtyar Ali Khan From shams abad.

  24. Mansoor Avatar

    Ironic that people trying to defend Musharaf even on this page are making it obvious that they don’t know a tarareist from a terrorist and safe from save and there is a new word coined called spended. Without any offense the class supporting Mush is the only ‘moderately enlightened’ breed who can’t see what interference of Army into politics can do to both to positive evolution of both your army and your institutions. Some still wonder why Mush and King Abdullah are acceptable to US while Saddam, Ahmadenejad, Chavez and Ches are guilty of tarnishing ‘democracy’.

    Anyway when was the last time a dictator made a graceful exit? So if Mush is not budging, why are we surprised?

  25. khalid munir Avatar

    i didnt read these interview .i havent tany extrAa time for readint these fazool interview

  26. ramzan Avatar

    hindsight is an amazing thing
    Look what a vengful Democracy has bought to Pakistan
    Shame on ALL those who said Musharaff was bad for Pakistan
    Look at the state of the country now
    More people have died in Karachi in 2012 than in Indian Kashmir
    Makes you wonder!!!!

  27. Rania Avatar

    I have never heard an articulate head of state or general of Pakistan as Musharraf. What, however, he lacked was a will and a vision which makes a difference. The interview reflected his self-negation when he talks of Pakistani society's peculiarity and the necessity of compromise on prodding from the Western leaders. Jamima also used the lines to further the image of his ex.