President’s US visit — some quotable quotes
ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf’s penchant for off-the-cuff talk was all too evident during his US visit where he had a record number of media engagements. It provided good copy for hacks and made his foreign policy team quite nervous. During the president’s media interaction, Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, who himself has a tendency to shoot like a misguided missile, remained on high alert. Conscious of serious implications of the president’s sometimes indiscreet remarks, he prompted him whenever he sensed danger. But for most part, the president followed his own instinct.
On the verbal spat with his Afghan counterpart, he noted: “This is most terrible and I don’t like one bit of it that we should be on such a course where he is bad-mouthing Pakistan and I’m attacking him. This is a sign of defeat and weakness and is setback for the whole coalition for whatever we are doing in that region.”
At another point he stated: “I really got tired of going everywhere and giving all these hundred interviews but this is what I tried to achieve: If I can change the mind of this President Karzai, then we will go together to fight the enemy and fight the problem. Now we are fighting ourselves.”
On hostile media and unfounded allegations: “My natural instinct is to fight back. Agar koi mujahee aik sunae tu mein unhein pundra suna doon ga.”
His reaction to a BBC interview was: “He (interviewer) had the audacity to ask me that ISI should be dismantled and I said what the hell are you talking and let him have it then with equal anger. I was very aggressive and told him that you expect us to tell you to dismantle your MI6 for not doing well.”
On outdated list of Taliban handed over to him by the Afghan intelligence chief: “I told him is this your intelligence that you waited for the presidential visit to hand it over…in fact I was very rude to him.”
On development projects: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have also built a coastal highway and you can drive on it as fast as your car drives.”
On his strengths, President Musharraf said: “I have a few strengths and one is that I am a Sayed. I have been inside Khana Kaaba seven times and I am the only leader who went to the roof of Khana Kaaba. I’ve been to Madina six times.”
Referring to the Hudood ordinance and Women’s Protection Bill, President Musharraf pointed to two Pakistani women journalists present at the press conference in New York on September 27 and stated: “There are these two ladies sitting here and we must do something for them and I’m with them on this issue. And I don’t care whatever destabilisation takes place. It will be done, this must be done. This has to be done and we have to pass a bill.”
RUMOUR MILLS: During the visit, rumour mills remained over-active with news of his open-heart surgery, aborted military coup back home and death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan spreading like wild fire. Pakistani diplomats and media managers went to great lengths to establish they were all cock and bull stories.
“The president is fit as a horse,” Pakistan’s enthusiastic ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani told a foreign news agency, and later the information minister probably mindful of the horse-trading stigma left it at: “The president is fit as he was.” And then getting a bit carried away, he declared: “In every way the president is fit.” Finally, the best came from the president himself who, before a packed hall at a fund-raiser function, announced: “Nothing is wrong with my machinery…I am too fit, I was told.”
EMBARASSMENT: The most embarrassing moment experienced was when some 1,000 Pakistani-Americans assembled at a glitzy New York hotel to watch the much-publicised CBS interview on the eve of President Musharraf’s book launch. The occasion was a fund-raiser dinner hosted by Dr Nasim Ashraf. The interview on CBS ‘60 minutes’ for which a big screen had been specially set up in the colossal hall where President Musharraf was to be the guest of honour, was sheer embarrassment for the Pakistanis. He was introduced as the president of a country where the “Pakistani evil of A.Q. Khan lives” and Pakistan was described as the ‘most dangerous’ country.
The interview, clearly damaging for Pakistan’s image, made a mockery of claims made earlier in the day by our information minister Mohammad Ali Durrani that president’s visit had generated pro-Pakistan sentiments in the US and cleared all misperceptions about it. As shell-shocked guests wondered who advised the president to go for such an interview, the PTV guys present on the occasion immediately telephoned people at the headquarters in Islamabad and instructed them not to air the interview. It later transpired that the interview had been recorded in Islamabad in early September and its duration was about 80 minutes. The CBS obviously edited it selectively and cut it down to 20 minutes to highlight the most negative aspects about Pakistan like terrorism, Talibanisation, extremism and nuclear proliferation. The president who otherwise is self-confident was put on the defensive and looked nervous when cornered with pointed questions particularly on the A.Q. Khan nuclear scandal.
The president arrived at the function after the interview had been aired and perhaps to make up for the super let-down spoke extempore for more than two hours non-stop, testing the endurance of the guests and scores of US secret service personnel looking after his security. Realising that he had set a record, the president in the end quipped: “I think I have never spoken so much but I thought I would test myself after the open-heart surgery.”
OVERCONFIDENCE: On domestic front, president’s loud and clear message throughout the visit was: all is under control. Rubbishing rumours of a military coup in Pakistan, he categorically stated: “The army follows me, the army likes me. I’m relaxed as the army and military is with me. So how can anything happen there? Nothing will happen there ever.”
At another point, he asserted: “Pakistan army never gets defeated and what we do is from a position of strength.”