"Pakistan is a country which is self- sustainable. It has the potential, it has the resources to stand on its own feet. And this I say very confidently because of the 10 years that I've governed Pakistan. We are self-sufficient in water, in energy, in food, in natural resources; what more does a country want? So what really is happening in Pakistan, if I may be allowed to speak on the issue, is that the people who come into governance through election, through the democratic practices do not govern well. That has been the history of Pakistan." –Pervez Musharraf
Musharraf discusses his leadership in Pakistan, as well as several life experiences including the 1999 bloodless coup, with The Atlantic's David Bradley.
In Conversation with Pervez Musharraf
MR. BRADLEY: Good afternoon. Good afternoon, my name is David Bradley and I'm with The Atlantic. And I have with me here President Pervez Musharraf the former of Pakistan. (Applause) MR. BRADLEY: The president has gone to some be with us. He's come from London; he's brought him his wife, Mrs. Musharraf, who's here in the second row. And their -- (Applause) -- their son, their daughter-in- law and their two grandchildren. We very much appreciate you doing this.
MR. BRADLEY: So I want to begin our 25 minutes of allotted time to set this up sympathetically. It is not as easy to be head of state as one might imagine. And so my example of this is, our globally celebrated journalist, Jeffrey Goldberg, took me last month to Israel, where he was interviewing 20 Israeli leaders about what are they going to do about the problem of Iran. And towards the end of the interviews we ended up with -- a little over an hour with Shimon Peres, the president of Israel.
And the president is 88 years old, he is in the high autumn of his life. He's beloved in Israel, he's beloved internationally, and he was in a very expansive mood. So he hosted us for tea in his Jerusalem garden. And it was on the record so it was recorded. And Jeff gave me this excerpt, which I thought I would read you. So it's -- the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, his very winning communication director, Jeff and I. So here's Peres speaking, "And we see that in a world of rapid globalization the contributions of someone like Mark Zuckerberg are worth more than a" -- now, the spokeswoman interrupts, in Hebrew. "Shimon, enough with globalization and Zuckerberg already; they want to know about Iran, why don't you talk to them about that." Peres, "But this is so very important."
Spokeswoman, "It's too much already, they're busy they have to go to other meetings." Peres -- and I thought this was very effecting -- "They can stay a few more minutes." Spokeswoman, "Okay, but Zuckerberg isn't the only subject in the world." And then you hear my voice on the recording saying to Jeff, "Is she yelling at the president?"
MR. BRADLEY: And Jeff Goldberg says, "Yes, she is." So I'm going to give you a real quick run through the -- of the general's life. Because the scale of his life is larger than an average sampling around, I suspect. Born in 1944 -- '43 excuse me, 4 years later he remembers a train ride -- that was the train ride of his family, leaving India, to go to -- what had just been created Pakistan. The partition had taken place.
The family lived in two rooms with 18 people in the room. His father worked for the foreign office; they were transferred to Turkey, where President Musharraf learned Turkish. He was at Hill Union High School (phonetic) -- I guess this is useful if you go into a military career. He built small time bombs in high school. Career military; two wars, 13th chief of army staff, briefly the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff; a bloodless coup in 1999, became chief of state, the 10th president of Pakistan. He's had seven executed assassination attempts on him; he's had 10 foiled attacks and others that aren't known publicly. He has one marriage, one son, one daughter, two grandchildren, two German Shepherds; that's all I've got.
(Laughter) MR. MUSHARRAF: Thank you. MR. BRADLEY: So just to begin with a personal
narrative, tell us about the bloodless coup. It's 1999, you're 56 years old, you've just been chief of army staff. You had been in Sri Lanka, you're flying back to Pakistan that night on a commercial plane, and then something happens.
MR. MUSHARRAF: Yes, indeed. I was coming from Sri Lanka and when I -- on a commercial flight which had about 300 passengers, I think about 100 of them were students -- children from the American school by the way. And when we approached Karachi and we were about to land we had descended to about 7,000 or 8,000 feet the pilot called me into the cockpit. And when I went there he said that the ground air traffic control is not allowing us to land and they are telling me to gain height and go up to 21,000 feet. So I said, what is the problem? They said, I don't know. They were saying, you can't even land anywhere in Pakistan so you get out of Pakistan's air space.
So when we climbed to 21,000 feet the pilot said, we cannot go out of Pakistan airspace, we don't have enough fuel. So I told him to tell the air traffic control, that is what he said. But they were insisting that you cannot land in Pakistan because they had done a blackout of all the airfields of Pakistan, and also at Karachi they had put fire tenders on the runway. So therefore, in spite, of my telling the pilot to take the risk of landing at the runway with full lights on, he said, we can't because we'll crash into the fire tenders. So that happened.
And when we climbed to 21,000 feet and we told them that we cannot go out anywhere they told us to go to the -- to another recovery airfield, which was nearby Karachi called Nawabshah. We turned -- I told the pilot to go ahead and go to Nawabshah. When we were mid way to Nawabshah from the ground control, there was a general who came on the wireless and he said that -- he asked the pilot to come back, that everything is all right at the airport now.
So I didn't know whether this was true or maybe a bluff going on. So -- but I knew the general on ground. So I knew that he knew two beautiful Pekingese dogs that I had. So to confirm whether it is the same general, I asked him -- I came on the air and I asked him whether -- what are the names of my dogs. So he said its Buddy and Dot. So I knew it's that general. And then we turned back to Karachi. We landed safely at Karachi because Karachi airport was taken over by the army. And well, I was in charge of the country when I landed.
MR. BRADLEY: I didn't mean to -- (Applause)
MR. BRADLEY: When I touched his knee, I didn't actually mean for him to stop just there. Something else happened and then suddenly you're the chief of state of the country. So that was a fine evening.
I have a friend who does counseling for men in crisis when they're suddenly jobless or they've gone bankrupt, they're divorced, they get a diagnosis of some kind of terminal disease. And he says regularly, life just breaks your heart. So at partition, the founder Jinnah looking at what Pakistan could be, he didn't imagine what it would be today.
And during those first years of your presidency when the economy was going very strongly you couldn't have envisioned what's going on today; the violence, the political unrest, the growing Islamic insurgent movement. What's the root cause problem, what's going wrong in Pakistan?
MR. MUSHARRAF: Well, if you start from the beginning in a short -- in the short period that we have to interact, Pakistan is a country which is self- sustainable. It has the potential, it has the resources to stand on its own feet. And this I say very confidently because of the 10 years that I've governed Pakistan. We are self-sufficient in water, in energy, in food, in natural resources; what more does a country want?
So what really is happening in Pakistan, if I may be allowed to speak on the issue, is that the people who come into governance through election, through the democratic practices do not govern well. That has been the history of Pakistan.
Therefore, we have suffered a dilemma, a dilemma of the constitution and the state. Constitution is more sacrosanct. Obviously, everyone knows it's the most sacred document, but its sanctity is as long as the state exists. Unfortunate reality is when the state is going down people run to the army to save the state. So without the state the constitution is a piece of paper.
So what the dilemma that the military suffers always whether it was in the '50s -- the late '50s under Ayub Khan or President Zia-ul-Haq or under me that we had a dilemma, save the state in order to save the constitution. So this has been the dilemma and unfortunately the military takes over in order to save the state in order to then save the constitution.
May I also say that this was the view of even President Abraham Lincoln. I know that he had violated the constitution because his responsibility was to the state, to protect the state and therefore protect the constitution. So this has been the dilemma of Pakistan all through its history. And even now the state is being run to the ground at the moment with all its potential. And people are again running to the military to save the country.
So what -- it is a dilemma with the army chief. Should he save the country and do something unconstitutional or allow the constitution to function and let the state go down. So this is the dilemma unfortunately that Pakistan always suffers from. We have to introduce sustainable democracy in Pakistan. That is the task that we have to undertake.
MR. BRADLEY: Let's go to a particular -- a particularly acute problem for Pakistan and for the United States. Let's go to the whole western border with Afghanistan and the tribal areas North West Frontier, FATA, Waziristan, and the sanctuaries they've provided for al-Qaeda, for the Afghan Taliban, for the Pakistani Taliban, for the Haqqani Network. The U.S. government at the highest levels is mindful of how strong support of the Pakistani military has been as it's been going after al- Qaeda and at times after the Taliban. But they are mindful of a more complex thing too.
They are of the view that Pakistan has not done all that it could to address the problems of these insurgent areas, sanctuaries at the border. And they believe that elements of Pakistan, probably in the intelligence service have provided pro active help of some sort; funds, logistical support, training, clearance to cross the border back into Afghanistan for the insurgents the al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Do you think there's any chance that any part of the Pakistani government or military or ISI, even if it's only a small renegade group, is in fact playing a double game that there's some complicity?
MR. MUSHARRAF: I can't -- one can't 100 percent say that there is no element within an organization -- a rogue element within the organization which maybe doing something underhand. However, if anyone can -- I can't even imagine that as a policy the ISI or the government would be encouraging the Taliban to go and attack American troops or the coalition forces. That is not a possibility at all. So at the policy level at the strategic level I am very confident, very sure that there is no such policy.
However, as I said there maybe some rogue elements. But may I say that the -- that the situation is much more complex it's not simple. The situation is not as simple as we think. And I personally feel that the problems arose between 2002 and 2004, David, if I'm allowed to point that out. I think that was the time into -- after 9/11 that the military action took place in Afghanistan. And the military succeeded, it defeated the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Taliban and al-Qaeda ran into the mountains and cities of Pakistan and we were chasing them there.
In Afghanistan there was a vacuum; a military vacuum and a political vacuum. Now, this was the time when we should have converted the military success, a military victory into a political victory. And this window of opportunity was available to us for 2 long years, 2 years because this vacuum existed and Taliban resurgence started in 2004.
We didn't do these in these 2 years. When I say convert military victory into a political military I mean thereby we have to install a legitimate government in Kabul and the government will be legitimate only when it is dominated by the Pakhtun majority of Afghanistan. You cannot rule Afghanistan with a minority 7 percent or 8 percent Panjshiris, which is being done at the moment. So therefore, we wasted these 2 years between 2002-2004. We could not convert a military victory into a political victory. Therefore, resurgence of Taliban started.
It didn't end there, stop there with this resurgence, the Taliban and the tribal agencies of Pakistan, the Taliban in the settled areas of Pakistan, they all have developed a nexus with the Afghan Taliban. And more than that the mujahideen who are operating in Kashmir in freedom struggle against the Indian Army they have developed a nexus with the Taliban also. So the complexity of the issue has increased and we are dealing with a very complex situation now.
MR. BRADLEY: Forgive me for taking one more run of this. This is very hard for Americans. The Americans think of Pakistan as an ally, our militaries think of the Pakistani military as an ally. They do joint-exercises together they do joint training together. We spend $2 billion in support of army operations.
No one believes -- not you, but no one believes the Pakistani government. The White House doesn't believe it, the Defense Department doesn't believe it, our intelligence agencies don't believe it, western reporters there don't believe it, think-tank analysts don't believe it. No one believes that the government, at least in whole, has quite a cleaner hands as the government says.
So let me take one more time and then I won't push it. If I were a Pakistani general and you and I were back in Islamabad and we were going to a dinner with other Pakistani generals. And we were chatting and the topic came up, is anybody supporting anyone in these western tribal areas, do we think any element of the Pakistani army or intelligence is supporting? Would we all be shocked by the question or would there be an honest conversation about, well, it's a complex situation?
MR. MUSHARRAF: Well, at the moment now we've come into a stage in 2012 that we are talking of quitting Afghanistan in 2014. So obviously, now the complexity for Pakistan increases now. What do you leave in 2014 in Afghanistan? I personally believed that there are three possibilities.
Either, when you quit in 2014 Afghanistan goes back to 1989, when all ethnic groups where fighting among themselves and ravaging the country, or it goes back to 1996 when Taliban emerged. Then it became the Taliban versus Northern Alliance; Northern Alliance being the minority Uzbek, Tajiks and Hazaras. Or thirdly if you leave a force behind, a force composed of air element -- air support elements, helicopter gunship elements, special forces elements on call to increase strength of Afghan national army -- and I know their strength is being increased to 350,000. Then a status quo will prevail, probably the Taliban versus the present government forces, it will continue.
Now, why I have said all this is? What does Pakistan do for itself? And may I say here -- may I introduce here that the India-Pakistan equation has to be taken into account also. India is being encouraged to play a more important role in Afghanistan. India certainly is on the side of the Northern Alliance, the present government, which is fighting the Taliban. And India certainly wants to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan. This they have done since the 1950s with the Soviets. They have always being trying to balkanize Pakistan and Pakistan has been -- has joined the West for its own security.
Now, the same situation will arise there. So what does the -- how does Pakistan fend for itself? A status quo fight going on between government and Northern Alliance and Taliban, India trying to assist the Northern Alliance and the government against the Taliban and trying to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan. What does Pakistan do in this situation?
So this -- I think any thinker -- think-tanks in Pakistan would evaluate which is the group, which is the force which can defend Pakistan's interests now. So therefore, while -- I would like to conclude by saying that strategically Pakistan certainly is on the side of defeating Taliban and al-Qaeda and also fighting against terrorism and extremism. But how to do this is the modalities and tactics involved, which -- where views in Pakistan may differ from views here.
MR. BRADLEY: If I may I'm going to switch from Afghanistan to Iran. There's a very interesting story from 2006 when President Musharraf was still acting president of Pakistan, when he began a little known peace effort to bring some kind of peace between Israel and Palestine. And traveled the Middle East and visited Washington. And proposal had to do with finding three Arab states and three non-Arab Muslim states, including Pakistan and Turkey, which could serve to enforce a peace settlement there.
And as he was doing this negotiation there was a decision, Iran isn't going to be part of this. And so President Musharraf took a flight to Iran and sat down with President Ahmadinejad. Could you tell us a little bit about your time with him?
MR. MUSHARRAF: Yes, my idea was to bring peace and contribute towards peace in the world that involved rapprochement with India -- between India and Pakistan and also resolution of the Palestinian Arab -- that Palestinian-Israeli dispute where I thought non-Arab states like Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia should be involved. But then why was Iran not involved. Iran is a very important Muslim country. So I thought this -- I must go to Iran and explain to President Ahmadinejad myself, and also to their spiritual leader Mr. Khomeini.
So I went to Iran and my idea was to tell President Ahmadinejad why he is not a part of this peace process. And I told him very frankly, you're not because I think the countries that I'm talking of have all -- are all prepared to accept the reality of Israel in exchange for bringing peace and doing justice to the resolution of the Palestinian Israeli dispute. So Iran, I told President Ahmadinejad is not on -- has not accepted the reality -- is not prepared to accept the reality under any circumstances.
But then I also took this opportunity of telling him why he is on a confrontationist course? Why doesn't he adopt a conciliatory course for the sake of his own country and for the sake of the peace in the region and peace in the world? Well, I don't think I got any positive response here. His response was, that the world or the West or the United States does not know the resolve of the people of Iran. And in the Iran-Iraq War the resolution --
MR. BRADLEY: Excuse me for just a second. Were you talking about Iranian nuclearization at that point or was it just general hostility?
MR. MUSHARRAF: That was -- it was -- it did involve nuclearization, yes.
MR. BRADLEY: It was nuclear. And so he said, they didn't --
MR. MUSHARRAF: That was the issue of nuclearization that I said that you should not adopt a confrontationist course, you should adopt a conciliatory course for the sake of the world and the region. And that is what -- when he said that it's -- they don't know the resolve of the people of Iran.
But I did tell him that this not going to be a war between infantries like Iran-Iraq War, it's going to be a high technology war; where maybe missiles, which you don't know where they are coming from are going to hit targets in your country. And your country will suffer. So that was the message that I took to him -- well, I discussed with him. But unfortunately the same views I discussed with the spiritual leader Khomeini, and I did not succeed, frankly.
MR. BRADLEY: What -- your estimate -- is there a reasonable possibility, given the current regime in Iran, that they can be dissuaded from developing nuclear weapons?
MR. MUSHARRAF: Well, they are determined to develop a nuclear arsenal. Although, I did also say and I also think that they don't have a reason to develop it. Because generally countries like Pakistan who developed a nuclear capability was because of the threat that was posed to them. And Iran is not posed any threat, therefore, they need not go nuclear.
But, however, they are determined to develop a nuclear technology at the moment.
MR. BRADLEY: And would your guess be that we will see a nuclear Iran within the next few years?
MR. MUSHARRAF: Well, nuclear -- frankly, I can't say much about that, except, that I don't know how much they've developed. Mere enrichment of uranium is not the end all of developing nuclear technology. Enrichment of uranium to weapon grade is only the start point. You have enriched uranium in the form of a saw dust. To join it into a bomb is a totally different technology which nobody has.
MR. BRADLEY: So by the clock, which is right behind these speakers in case you wonder what's really governing the afternoon, we're in our last minute. Let me go back to the observation of "Life just breaks your heart." So personal closing question. You've loved the army, and presumably you loved leading Pakistan, and you love Pakistan. And now you are in exile and you are at legal risk if you go back. Is this hard, what's the -- none of us has lost a country, even if, only temporarily. Tell us something about this hour in your life?
MR. MUSHARRAF: Well, I think seeing myself I'm quite comfortable outside living in London and Dubai and being called on lecture circuits around the world --
MR. BRADLEY: This wasn't the direction I meant you to go actually.
MR. MUSHARRAF: But however, may I say that, there is always a cause greater than self. I know I've seen Pakistan and governed Pakistan and I know that it has all the potential to do well for itself. Now at this moment it's being run to the ground. Therefore, I love my country, I love the people of Pakistan. And I thought I must go back to at least try to recover from this malaise that it is suffering from.
And then I am reminded of the oath to the -- I took at the -- after I left the military academy. The oath was, "That I will go by land, air or sea, wherever ordered, even to the peril of my life." So therefore for this cause, the cause of the people of Pakistan, cause of the country of Pakistan, which I love so much, I will go back even to the peril of my life.
MR. BRADLEY: The president plans to return to Pakistan by some time next year when there will be parliamentary elections. And whether you would vote with or against the president in any race you have to admire somebody who says, "Okay, it's been seven attempts at my life, let's give the dice one more roll."
I wanted to read you a quote from Douglas MacArthur. So given the -- let me read the quote first, Douglas MacArthur, 1950 MacArthur was trying to convince the White House to let him do the Incheon landings in North Korea. And he wrote this, "I can almost hear the ticking of the second hand of history, we must act now or we will die." So here's my thought for you, given the era of history and the place in history geographically that you led a country there must be moments when you had that same MacArthur sense that, "I can almost hear the ticking of the second hand of history." And we're very glad you had time with us today.
Thank you. MR. MUSHARRAF: Thank you. Thank you very much.