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Musharraf in America

Published Jul 30, 2011 09:44pm


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LONG before the start of Pervez Musharraf’s July 21 Woodrow Wilson Centre address, the auditorium had already filled to capacity. With crowds continuing to surge, swarms of people were diverted to three overflow rooms.

By the time Musharraf stepped to the podium, 400 people were on hand — many of them jostling outside the doorways of packed overflow rooms, straining to catch a glimpse of him on video feeds. Still others, muttering angrily, were turned away due to lack of space. Many Pakistanis may loathe their former president, dismissing him as a political has-been reduced to a life of self-imposed exile in London and Dubai. Yet in the United States, where Musharraf recently participated in a speaking tour, he is regarded with keen interest and accorded considerable respect.

In Texas, he hobnobbed with politicians (including a probable US presidential candidate) and lectured at Rice University.

Texas is where, not long ago, a Dallas journalist spotted him at a restaurant and gushed that he was “probably one of the hottest men I have ever seen”. Musharraf later travelled to New York and appeared on The Daily Show. He strode onto stage amid boisterous applause, and sipped Gatorade as host Jon Stewart peppered him with relatively painless questions.

Then, in Washington, a diverse audience — high school students, scholars, bureaucrats, diplomats, packs of journalists — politely welcomed him to the Wilson Centre. Some refused to applaud him, yet nary a catcall was heard. The only protests were lodged (in advance, via email to Wilson Centre staff) by several Balochistan activists.

How does a disgraced former president and fugitive, who now admits he diverted $10bn of US counterterrorism aid to strengthen defences against India, command such respect in the United States? One reason is America’s infatuation with celebrity. (One often hears that we worship the House of Windsor more than Britons do.) Another is that Americans are far removed from the actions — the raid on the Lal Masjid mosque, the firing of Chief Justice Chaudhry, the media crackdowns — that turned Pakistanis against their president.

Yet perhaps most important, soon after the 9/11 attacks Americans came to believe that Musharraf was the indispensable leader — Pakistan’s only hope for fending off fundamentalism. Today, US public opinion towards Pakistan has never been more hostile, yet the triggers of such sentiment are the current government and perennial villains like A.Q. Khan. Musharraf is rarely a target of such ire.

In reality, this interest in and respect for Musharraf is observed in Pakistan more than is often acknowledged. His speeches generate banner headlines (witness the response to last year’s announcement of his new political party). And while the country undoubtedly expressed widespread hostility towards him just before his inglorious resignation — in 2007, he was less popular than Osama Bin Laden, while by early 2008 his approval ratings stood at 15 per cent and three-quarters of Pakistanis wanted him to resign — today he is more divisive than discredited. Some hate him, yet others admire him.

Consider, for example, all those who argue that Pakistan was less dangerous, corrupt and impoverished during the Musharraf era than it is today. Last year, an Express Tribune blog post articulated 50 different reasons why Pakistan “needs Pervez Musharraf”. To be sure, some of these reasons (“Copper and gold deposits were found in Chagai”) have more to do with circumstances than with Musharraf, while others (“A historic 100 per cent increase in tax collection was observed”) are of questionable accuracy. Yet others still — industrial sector growth, increases in foreign reserves — are hard to dispute. The post spawned more than 400 comments, with many heaping scorn on the author’s reasoning — and many others applauding his analysis.

Musharraf, contrary to the hopes of many, is not going away; he is, after all, running for the top political slot, with plans to return to Pakistan next year. His prospects are admittedly slim and he faces a slew of challenges, from the popularity of Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif to that pesky arrest warrant.

Yet stranger things have happened, and certain factors could work in his favour. These include the military’s continued high marks; according to recent polling by the Pew Research Centre (conducted after the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad), nearly 80 per cent believe its influence on Pakistan is positive. Or the perception that Musharraf remains a viable political figure. Several days before his Wilson Centre speech, an informal Pakistani newspaper poll of several hundred readers found that a substantial 43 per cent believe he can become “a serious political force”.

While being escorted out of the Wilson Centre following his talk, Musharraf, always an engaging personality, extended his hand to several passers-by, all of whom clasped it heartily. One onlooker began chanting, “March 23, 2012, let’s go! March 23, 2012, let’s go!” — eliciting a chuckle from Musharraf and his entourage.

Neither Musharraf nor his handlers nor the onlooker may have realised that this date marks not only his expected return to Pakistan, but also the US release of a movie called Hunger Games. This much-ballyhooed film, based on a best-selling young-adult book trilogy and expected to become the next Harry Potter phenomenon, depicts a post-apocalyptic America.

March 23, 2012: one more tie that binds Musharraf and the United States.

The writer is the South Asia programme associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (50) Closed

iskander bawkher Jul 31, 2011 11:45am
Pres.General (Rtd.) Pervez Musharraf has been a good ;eader /military General for Pakistan -since his dismissing of PM Nawaz Sharif and family -as exile guest's of Crown Prince Abdullah in 1999. Pres.Musharraf -ruled Pak for 9 year's and is remembered (mostly ) for doing whay was required /needed at that time. We need Pres >Musharraf -this time he has to select a -good team of advisors -to guide him and keep /Pakistan =going forward . guest's
Ben Jul 31, 2011 11:50am
Now sure why the writer hasn't highlighted the many reasons why an ex-president is a big draw in the US: it is because he bring a message of hope, success and a economically strong Pakistan.
kanak Jul 31, 2011 11:56am
This is what some bored foreigners and non resident Pakistanis do in spare time. Listen to Mr.Musharraf with most of the crowd brought in.If he is serious about Pakistan, he should have the guts to go back to Pakistan and work for the people and country. When his visa was rejected, he said he would never visit India - Indians have never been happier as they can avoid his preaching that he never follows.
Arindom Jul 31, 2011 12:21pm
I may not be aware of all the sins committed by Musharraf inside Pakistan. Outside too - he initiated the Kargil adventure. But for some un-explainable reason, I think he is a person India can deal with!! This explains by inspite of his Kargil adventure he is so widely popular in Indian lecture circuit too. Wish him all the best !!
faisal Jul 31, 2011 12:25pm
It goes without saying that Musharaf's tenure was much better than this incompetent, corrupt and hopeless government which has neither the will nor the capacity to deliver anything to the general masses. Common man on the street was never this much disillusioned and disappointed in the past as he is today owing to the inept policies and apathetic attitude of the ruling class.We need him again on the political horizon to bring back Pakistan on the rails. True that he made mistakes and that was largely due to the influence of certain elements around him but his vision for Pakistan was better. At least he had one.
shahzad Jul 31, 2011 01:11pm
musharraf should come back ,take charge of this country,and steer it back to civilisation.he is the hope we have
khalid Jul 31, 2011 01:33pm
Gen Mush is the best choice at present,he has the vision,courage & integrity.Only if MrImran &the like would team up with him.they will restore the national dignity.
Asad Bhatti Jul 31, 2011 02:52pm
Mushi bhai is our only hope. Pakistan needs his charisma and talent. Our chore politicians will ruin the country. Mushi, please come back soon, we need you.
Malik from Australia Jul 31, 2011 02:53pm
Musharraf knows the landscape of Pakistan. He has the experience of running the country. He has a vision. I think it would be a terrible shame if he was not allowed to return to Pakistan and run for the Presidency. Good luck, Musharraf.
junaid Jul 31, 2011 02:57pm
nice article. thnx
Ali Husnani Jul 31, 2011 03:06pm
How one can admire Musharraf when he is resposible for the current choase and anarchy in pakistan - He is responsible for present NRO Govt with it corrupt politicans-He was dictator, was responsible for crak-down on Media,Judiciary and the demorcatic insititution -He can one call him a democrate while his past record indicate he was unleased undemocratice force to perpetuate his crual regime
mirza baig Jul 31, 2011 03:12pm
Musharaff is the hope of Pakistan,he is experienced,not corrupt
Masood Akhtar Jul 31, 2011 03:33pm
Musharaf's vision and strategic ability along with his modern thinking are only assurance of a most reliable and sustainable bridge between Pakistan & West,even between Islam and West.
Anopa Jul 31, 2011 04:13pm
Regardless of the rather biased media opinions on Musharaff; he made a much better job of ruling the country than the present set up. At the turn of 2007 Pakistan was at a totally differnt trajectory to the one that it is on now with very good economic growth rate. One only has to look at the countries macroeconomic indicators 1999 - 2011 to realise this.
Meekal Ahmed Jul 31, 2011 04:22pm
I don't think anyone can guarantee his security if he comes back to Pakistan. That was the case with Benazir. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
Ishfaque Bokhari Jul 31, 2011 04:43pm
Gen Musharaf not acceptable due to his irrational stance on Neighbouring India
wahid Jul 31, 2011 04:50pm
Musharraf is the best leader Pakistan had after Ayub Khan, GA Musharraf
Shafi Jul 31, 2011 04:55pm
Musharraf is the one who authored the infamous 'NRO', and is therefore fully responsible for the mess that Pakistan is today.
khaled Jul 31, 2011 05:09pm
why are we so obsessed with personalities, why not make our institutions strong and vibrant instead of worshiping one person,Musharraf has played a long inning and had the opportunity to play on a field of his liking and played to his capacity, what else do we expect from him . in USA too where he has gone for a lecture tour the president is restricted to a two year term only of four years each, whereas he ruled for nine years. Why not look for some fresh.
Khan Jul 31, 2011 05:38pm
No doubt there is no alternative to democracy but in countries like Pakistan where voters only vote based on affiliation with their political parties without knowing their manifestos and if they ever followed it during their tenure and where political leaders come from dynastic system. Musharraf, though came via backdoor but tried to establish the base of democracy by increasing literacy level and educational institutions, media and putting limit on minimum qualification for Parliamentarians which paved the way for new crop.
A. HAMEED : UAE Jul 31, 2011 05:48pm
Mushraf is the only hope for Pakistan. He must come back and redirect the country towards progress, prosperity, development and peace, and givee the masses a hope to live with confidence and integrity. Bust of Luck. Pervaiz Musharraf. God bless u.
G.A. Jul 31, 2011 06:14pm
I read a saying recently that went something like: "If America starts admiring you, Run!". 'Musharraf' was better for the U.S. than for Pakistan. His entire book reads like an appeasement to the Americans in which he admits handing over Pakistani citizens to a foreign country for bounty. How shameful. He is only a good orator and all he achieved for Pakistan, he destroyed on his way out.
Vinny, India Jul 31, 2011 06:26pm
Musharraf is undoubtedly the man of our times :-) Loved watching him speak at India Today Conclave some time back, with grudging admiration.
K F Khan Jul 31, 2011 06:33pm
Can you not say the same for Bilawal?
Tariq K Sami Jul 31, 2011 07:30pm
I think Ayub and Musharraf were true patriots and not corrupt. Both had their faults and failures. But most of all they were in control and maintained law and order. Things were not so chaotic as they are now. People had not lost hope. Now the man who really fired up the imagination of the masses of Pakistan was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He He was a true national leader. BB was also a national leader and that is why her assasination was such a great loss to this nation. Now it seems people have no hope left. Bhutto gave us the constitution. Abdul Hafeez Pirzada was not given his due credit as author of the constitution (why we do not know who were the other guys on this job). I cannot imagine American Drones attacking Pakistan under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Mohammad Ali Khan Jul 31, 2011 07:37pm
Pakistanis should stop looking at individuals as their messiah.Unfortunately the corrupt culture in the country has provided abundant opportunists to surround any well meaning leader.The leaders,well meaning they may be,allow corrupt characters in their teams out of necessity. Pakistani culture of corruption is biggest enemy of Pakistan.We need a grass root movement to displace corruption.
Amit-Atlanta-USA Jul 31, 2011 07:40pm
Gen.Musharaff no doubt is probably one of the finest leaders of Pakistan, and a true patriot who had Pakistan's interests on top. Having said that he was a dictator and surely did several things to suppress forcefully all opposition to his rule. But, from India and America's perspective he was probably one Pakistan leader who browbeat them both to the max. and in return was immensely rewarded by Americans, Europeans and India's own educated put it very mildly! And, he's continuing to do that till this day enriching himself to the tune of millions while defending his country Pakistan to the fullest. Amit-Atlanta-USA
Dr. Zubairi Jul 31, 2011 07:48pm
Musharraf is respected by patriotic Pakistanis for keeping the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan in tact while keeping the fundamentalism in check. Americans are smart enough to know that their current policy in Pakistan is failing and they may need Musharraf again even if they have to agree to moderate and inevitable fundamentalism and to his terms not to sell Pakistan completely. I said completely.
saeed Jul 31, 2011 09:03pm
NRO closed cases against some politicians, but its the people who elected them to assemblies (or presidency). Mr. Zardari was unanimously elected president. What is the logic in holding Musharraf responsible for that? Why people don’t hold their elected representative responsible and don’t commit same mistake again.
sulman Jul 31, 2011 09:15pm
Lal Masjid cannot be looked at as a blunder by General Musharraf. The government was faced with no option when its offices, police force and innocent citizens were being harassed and destroyed. Operation was the only logical approach and offered the Mullahs every opportunity to surrender. The author should take note of this.
Rizwan Jul 31, 2011 09:25pm
Through Ages Pakistan is growing mature , but its health , wealth and Prosperity being never ensured, there is a dire need of sincere leadership, to drive emerging potential of this God gifted state. Musharif was a hope and may be a ray of light to Future. May Allah be with us all and bring peace to our homeland, Amin
ali Jul 31, 2011 09:34pm
Pervez's performance in the beginning was not bad.The crises started when he dismissed the CJ. After that he kept on making blunders after blunders.He did everything possible to keep himself in power.Hundreds died. Those were bad days for Pakistan. If he comes back again and is elected, he will make sure that he remains in power till he passes away.Being an army General he has got a dictatorial mentality.He also likes "yes" men around him. He is fooling the Americans with his sweet talk telling them how efficient he was.Pervez is history. Pakistan does not need him. Although the present government is not performing, it is a far better option then dictator Pervez.
shahid Jul 31, 2011 10:01pm
When Musharaf speaks ,every one listens-what a great statesman.when nawaz and other leaders talk no one cares. One thing is sure -He is honest,sincere and not cheater
GKrishnan Jul 31, 2011 11:09pm
Even though I personally like former President Musharraf, the way he went about as a ruler, I am very surprised that the majority in this blog-post want him to lead the country again. For one, the clock can never be turned back. Both Pakistan and the world have changed since the time Mr.Musharraf relinquished his post. Besides, the entire Lal Masjid episode will cost him his life, if he re-enters Pakistan, as his immediate family members and friends have warned him. The best he can do is give advice, and render consultant support to whoever rules Pakistan, and give the benefit of his experience.
ZAK Jul 31, 2011 11:49pm
Pakistan must adopt the American style of democracy. Directly elect a President and let him build his own team. Parliamentary democracy is captive as the people under a sardar, a jagirdar, a wadera or a zamindar have to vote for him come what may. And who says that Zardari is not a dictator. Or an autocrat. Lets work for the country. And its people. Pakistan first.
fk Aug 01, 2011 01:17am
Let Musharraf enter the arena of politics in Pakistan as a regular citizen. If people elect him, let it be. As the pattern requires,he'll have to go through legal trials,jail term etc. Without these hardships people of Pakistan are not satisfied. His two big sins were his association with the Chaudhris of Gujrat and his collision with the Chief Justice. He should admit these were his misjudgments and apologies to the nation. Then he starts with a clean slate. Many a great man in history have made mistakes and apologized. Musharraf needs to consider this act seriously. If he joins the People Party, he'll surely be elected to high office within a short time. He should keep his mind open about this possibility.
Chaigram Aug 01, 2011 02:57am
The only person who has the guts to get rid of the waderas, chaudreys of Punjab , he is honest and can have the support of the people to bring land and tax reforms. Good luck Musharraf.
AlChemist Aug 01, 2011 03:40am
From your argument it appears that Indians are more interested in spending money for their weaponry than making peace with Pakistan and spending on education and civilian development.
abraham haque Aug 01, 2011 03:50am
surely he should come back and drive the last nail in the coffin of Pakistan. Pakistan Zindabad
Impala Aug 01, 2011 04:12am
Imran Khan is a far better choice.
s.khan Aug 01, 2011 04:13am
It will be a big mistake for the former president to come back. With Nawaz sharif around, his security will be endangered. Stay in London and visit USA as often as you like. Leave Pakistan behind.
Oracle Aug 01, 2011 04:58am
He is not only admired by those in US. He is respected by anyone who has the capability of understanding the achievements during his time in power. Corruption is not his legacy, it is well rooted in our society today.
Shaikh Aug 01, 2011 06:07am
No one is above the law. This disgraced former president and fugitive Musharraf should surrender to the courts in Pakistan and clear his name.
nadeem dallas tx Aug 01, 2011 07:05am
PM is only solution for Pakistan. we need to support him Aug 01, 2011 07:36am
Pakistan need Musharraf, he has done a lot and can do more.
G.Nabi Aug 01, 2011 03:19pm
Man was an absolute dictator for 9 years, hobnobbed with proverbial corrupt politicians, shredded the constitution,fired judges,passed infamous NRO facilitating the return of people with tainted past - Amazing some comments here,making him as if he was the saviour of the nation. !!
Afzal A.Khan Aug 01, 2011 08:14pm
Michael Kugelman should read Musharraf's book,'In the line of Fire'.It is full of bravados and self contradictory statements.For instance he categorically blamed Benazir & Nawaz Sharif for all the misfortunes that Pakistani public was enduring and pledged that he would not allow these two to come back to Pakistan. At the end he did opposite, under NRO, he permitted them to return, hoping that in return they would allow him to stay in the presidency.The man was no Charles De Gaulle but a tinhorn military dictator. I am surprised to read some comments, making him a saviour of Pakistan.
jalaluddin S. Hussai Aug 01, 2011 10:37pm
Let Musharraf fight in the 2012 Pakistan General Elections, after getting his name cleared. But this should happen right now.
sajid Aug 02, 2011 02:00am
musharaf is the only hope for pakistan and only he can save pakistan in this critical time
Zulfi Bhutto Aug 02, 2011 03:48pm
Bilawal Bhutto will be your next leader after his father Hounarable Mr. Asif Ali Zardari... Jeay Bhutto Pakistan!!