KARACHI: Former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, who has returned to Pakistan to contest elections after a self-imposed exile of over four years, said Wednesday that he was ready to face all challenges come what may.
Giving a blatant statement, Musharraf challenged his opponents to “do whatever they could” as he said he won’t back off.
Addressing a proper press conference for the first time since his return, Musharraf started off by speaking about his party and moved on to let the media ask questions.
Musharraf started by speaking about his party All Pakistan Muslim League and said that his absence cost the party a lot. “A lot of seats were given to people I don’t even know. That’s why I can’t say for sure how my party will fare in the elections.”
Throughout the press conference, Musharraf stressed on the point that he was not bringing in a ‘tsunami’ and would be happy to get past “handicap issues” his party is facing right now. On questions about rifts in his party, Musharraf retorted: “rifts are a part of every party.”
Organised at a hotel, the press conference had average security, but microphones of various TV channels were not allowed on the stage. Musharraf came alone to the stage and after speaking for a minute about his party opened the floor for questions.
“Did not take ‘final decision’ on Bugti operation”
Bombarded with questions, right from Lal Masjid operation to Bugti’s killing to striking a deal with the government of Pakistan, Musharraf answered most questions candidly, while smartly evading the ones about the role of the Pakistan Army in his return to the country.
However, he made it clear that he had not struck up a deal with the government. “I have a lot of respect outside Pakistan and a political standing. I’ve never asked for favors from anyone, so wouldn’t resort to it now,” he said.
On questions about the military operation in 2006 that led to the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti, Musharraf said that: “Bugti challenged the government and on the basis of that a subsequent action was taken by the army.” In the same vein he said that he was not the one who took the “final decision” on Bugti and was informed “when he was killed.”
He also pointed out that the cave, in which Bugti was residing, “was not attacked,” instead “explosives went off from inside the cave, bringing it down.”
Speaking about the Lal Masjid operation, he said that media forgets easily. These people were challenging the writ of the government by creating a state within a state in the heart of Islamabad, he added.
Quoting an incident from Saudi Arabia in 1988 where a man who called himself a prophet and tried to take over Makkah, he said that guns and tanks were used to pull him out of the area. It is lawful to use force when people are creating fasaad in the name of religion, he said adding that in the Lal Masjid operation, “no women and children were killed. Instead when one of our colonels was killed by a gun toting man, who was trying to save the children.”
“We sent everyone for negotiations, even Imam e Qaaba was asked to instill some sense in to them. But they didn’t listen to anyone,” he explained in his defense.
On a question about the Kargil war, Musharraf said that the army had captured four out of five entries with the help of the Northern Light Infantry, with the Indian Army having no knowledge about it whatsoever.
“We should be proud of the fact for what we did. Rather than feeling sorry about ourselves. I’m from the army and am trained to fight, not to sit and mourn at home,” he candidly remarked.
About the most immediate matters regarding contesting from a seat in Karachi, Musharraf gave a non-committal response when asked about making an alliance with the MQM. The former dictator said that he had been advised to contest general elections from a Karachi seat.
“I have a longstanding relationship with MQM, beginning as far back as the 90s. My advisors have asked me to contest from a seat in Karachi’s Defence (NA-250), it is not finalized yet I must add. Let’s see who supports me,” he replied.
Regarding his political future, he said he could not say much as it would depend on the situation on the polling day.
Answering a question about the carnage in Karachi on May 12, 2007, Musharraf said that he was being wrongfully blamed for what transpired that day. “I don’t know who started what,” he replied briefly.
In the same vein he was asked about imposing emergency in 2007 and dismissing Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Smiling, he said that the CJ’s case was different.
“A reference came to me and I acted upon it. There is a Supreme Judicial Council that looks over complaints and issues, and in this case too it took its decision. I did everything constitutionally,” he said, stressing that the President does not look over everything as there are other ministries and councils for it.
Musharraf, who heads the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), faces threats from extremist militant groups. Last week, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan said it had set up a ‘special death squad’ to target the former military general. He was forced to scrap plans to hold a public rally at Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi upon his return due to safety concerns.
However, speaking to reporters today, Musharraf brushed aside all fears of security and assassination attempts.
Musharraf said he had been dealing with threats for a long time and that it was nothing new for him. “I didn’t back off then, I won’t back off now. I challenge these people to do anything they want.”
Once again the topic swerved towards Balochistan and the separatist insurgency in the province. One reporter asked him whether he would go to Balochistan for his electoral campaign. Getting a bit annoyed by the question, Musharraf said that he has been going to Dera Bugti since 70s and brought back the displaced Kalpars back to their homes and hearth.
Referring to a quote by Jamhoori Watan Party leader Talal Bugti, who is reported to have put up a reward of Rs 1 billion for whoever kills Musharraf, he retorted: “I won’t get scared by the talk of head-money. If they have put one billion on my head, I will put two on theirs.”