ISLAMABAD, Feb 5: Retired general Pervez Musharraf was in a relaxed and calm mood.
The latter half of the nine years he was in power was full of trouble. But now he seems to be enjoying a peaceful life, though he must be missing what he perceives as his days of glory.
He has just returned from a two-week lecture tour to the United States.
Not only did he attract droves of American listeners on the lecture circuit, he is said to have also made a fortune for himself.
In an informal chat with Dawn, the former president expressed his views on a range of contemporary national issues.
While he stood down as army chief in November 2007 and resigned as president in August 2008, he occupies the well-guarded Army House.
And adjacent to the sprawling lawns of the Army House is his favourite room with glass windows, expensive furniture, a collection of antiques, and an LCD television set with a sound system.
“I love this life. I am relaxed and satisfied. And I am enjoying my lecture tours. Next month I am going to India for the same purpose. Let’s counter the Indians on their own home ground,” said the former general.
Clad in a purple pullover and brown trousers, former president Musharraf said he had no regrets about any of his actions since the military coup of October 1999. He argued that politicians were equally responsible for the state Pakistan was in.
He explained that the reason he resigned as president — a difficult decision — was that Pakistan faced what he described as critical circumstances.
He offered his oft-repeated assertion that while democracy was the only system of government that must continue, its British model was not suitable for Pakistan. What the country needed instead, he continued, was a democratic model tailored to its specific needs.
During his recent US visit, the retired general held separate meetings with former US vice-president Dick Cheney, former secretary of state Colin Powel and Senator John Kerry.
He attended receptions hosted in his honour by former caretaker prime minister Moin Qureshi and former US ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain. He found the meetings interesting and productive.
“I made it clear to the Americans that Pakistan is doing enough in the war against terror. I warned them not to distrust the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) which has played a key role in breaking Al Qaeda networks in Pakistan.”
The former general was annoyed with those who believed the ISI had been double-crossing the Americans.
“How can one assume the ISI is playing a double game? It was, in fact, the ISI that captured hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives from Pakistan,” he said.
He rejected allegations that he had been showing leniency towards Taliban militants.
Referring to abortive assassination attempts on his life, he wondered how he could have taken those elements lightly who wanted to kill him and destroy Pakistan.
Many believe that his downfall began on March 9, 2007, the day he decided to get rid of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. The subsequent events merely hastened his decline.
While the former president defended all the steps he took and the decisions he made in the final year in power, he refused to indulge in debate, saying he would talk about the issues in detail at an appropriate time in future.
In the past, retired General Musharraf repeatedly claimed that Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto had no role in the 2007 general elections. But he was proved wrong. Despite his reported arrangements with Ms Bhutto, she came back before the elections. It forced the Saudis to allow Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan as well.
From his take on the events, it appears that the former president wanted both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to return after the general elections. If his plan had succeeded, it would have allowed the PML-Q to win the election and him to complete his second five-year tenure.
It also appears that the former president did not want to enforce the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). But he did so “under pressure” from his political aides, who begged him to sign the NRO instead of allowing Ms Bhutto to become prime minister for a third time.
While he was reluctant to talk about national politics, Mr Musharraf spoke extensively on the war against terror and Pakistan’s relations with India.
He believed that a half-hearted operation in the tribal areas and Swat would serve no purpose. He claimed that during his tenure the militants were on the run, but they took undue advantage of the recent peace initiatives of the incumbent government.The former general proposed a sizeable increase in the strength of the Frontier Corps (FC). He said the FC should be provided with tanks and the latest weaponry to take on the militants.
His critics blamed him for secretly allowing the United States to carry out drone attacks in the tribal areas. He dismissed as untrue such allegations, though he admitted that he was under strong American pressure to allow the drone strikes.
“I made it clear to them that only Pakistani security forces had the authority to operate in the tribal areas.”
The former president expressed no desire to enter politics in the near future. In 2009, he said, he would deliver lectures in different parts of the world.