Pervez Musharraf is a man who will not ‘fade away’. The former Pakistan president was planning to quit public life and live in peace five years after the 2008 elections, but the return of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto, which Musharraf says was in violation of his agreement with her, and Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan “created turmoil”.
Today, the 67-year-old retired general promises that he “will be back” in his homeland to contest the 2013 elections, tackle “the political and economic turmoil” and fight the terrorism threat.
“I have a plan,” he told Gulf News in a one-hour conversation at his Dubai home, overlooking the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. A key part of that plan is to ‘modify” the government system “if the people agree.”
Musharraf explained that “in my personal opinion, presidential system with checks and balances is good for Pakistan.”
Critics say Musharraf has to be realistic. They argue that he doesn’t have the grassroots support to carry him back to power. But he contends that with the help of his newly launched All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party he “provides a political alternative to be seen by the people of Pakistan and the international community [as the only way] to save Pakistan.”
With the determination of a military officer who is seemingly trying hard to appear like a politician, Musharraf adds: “If I can do that, that is the salvation of Pakistan and I will give it a good try.”
But despite his nine years in the presidential office, Musharraf retains the tone of an army general although he put on an impressive show of remembering all the numbers that matter; the national debt, the capacity and the actual production of electricity, the unemployment figures and other data he used in the interview to stress that Pakistan was drowning in systematic corruption and administrative mismanagement.
Musharraf also spoke about Sharif’s lack of political insight and inability to govern and said it will be “unfortunate” for the country and people if Sharif comes to power again. And despite acknowledging his good relations with the United States, the general, sounding like a politician again, strongly criticises US drone attacks saying that the action is creating more hatred in Pakistan. But he quickly returns to his military school of thought as he advocates an Afghan government led by the majority Pashtuns.
“The Pashtuns have always ruled that country.” They will not accept a government run by others, he stressed.
Excerpts from the interview:
Gulf News: Why have you launched your own political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League? Have nine years in power not been enough?
Pervez Musharraf: Today, Pakistan is faced with political and economic crises and a lack of leadership. There is no political party now which can deliver. The future of the PPP [Pakistan People's Party] is dark and the PML-N [Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz] has almost got confined to regional party [status] in Punjab.
We have created another political outlet by launching the APML, providing a political alternative to be seen by Pakistanis and the international community, to save Pakistan because the current turmoil in the country will not only affect the region but the whole world. They should see this alternative as the viable option for their bright future and that is what I am trying to do.
You have formed your party but you don't have any support from other political parties in Pakistan. Your attempts to unite all factions of the Pakistan Muslim League have failed. How will you make inroads in Pakistani politics?
I agree the unification process of all factions of Pakistan Muslim League got confused because of some elements I don't want to name here. But I am sure they all will fall in line. It is directly proportional to the success of APML. The moment we succeed, they will all join me.
Frankly speaking, Q League [Pakistan Muslim League faction led by Chaudhry Shujjat Hussain] has almost disintegrated. It is composed of groups that are not with him [Shujjat]. I met most of them and they are also in touch with me. They are sitting and watching and will be on the side of the party or the person who emerges stronger. Another faction of the PML (Functional) has a small following in Sindh and is led by Peer Paghara, who always supported me as army chief and I am sure he will again do it.
Will you ever join hands with Nawaz Sharif?
I am not at all interested in Nawaz Sharif. He is a man who does not know what governance is. He has failed twice and he wants to come [to power] again — for what? To ruin the country again? What did he do for Pakistan before 1999 when he was in power for three years?
If Pakistan gets him again, it will be the most unfortunate thing because besides his lack of government acumen, he is in league with Taliban and other extremists. But there are many people within his PML-N who are dissatisfied, disgruntled and I am very sure depending on our success they will be looking at other PML options.
Do you regret your decision to let Bhutto and Sharif come back to Pakistan before the 2008 elections?
It was not my decision. Benazir came [to Pakistan] violating the agreement between us as she was supposed to come back after the 2008 elections. But a political environment had been created in the streets of Pakistan in 2007 which encouraged her and allowed her to come back.
Then Sharif followed. Frankly, Saudi Arabia pressurised us that he should also be allowed to come back.
I wanted them to come after the elections because I wanted the elections  to be very smooth. Frankly, I was very sure that we will again be elected with my supporters and then I will remove my uniform and remain a civilian president overseeing another five-year term and then fade away as everyone has to fade away. But now the plan is reversed. Instead of fading away, I need to restart for the sake of Pakistan.
What type of political system do you want to see in Pakistan — the existing parliamentary one or a presidential system?
If you ask my personal choice, there is certainly merit in the presidential system but it is the parliament that has to decide and it has to be brought through constitutional amendment.
I personally believe that the president should have the power to dissolve assemblies as it is a good check on parliament.
Will you like to be prime minister or president if you win the next elections?
That has to be seen. If there is a good prime minister available then I will opt for the president's office. But I am also not ruling out the office of the prime minister because in the parliamentary system, it is the prime minister who runs the government, not the president.
Are you ready for the next elections due in 2013?
My party is just two months old but we have to be ready and we will be ready, Inshallah. That is exactly what I am doing now — organising the party at the national, provincial and grass roots levels. We have to decide who are our leaders and who will contest on our party ticket. We have been getting a good response.
You are banking on the 60 per cent of people, mostly the youth and educated professionals, who never voted in Pakistani elections. Imran Khan is also banking on them. Why do you think they will vote for you?
If at least 20-25 per cent of these voters are brought out to vote, we will succeed. Can they be brought is the next question. I think there is such hopelessness and despondency in this very class that they are the most worried. Now the environment exists to bring them out. However, we cannot ignore the other 40 per cent who are voting already.
Are you being pushed back into Pakistan by ‘outsiders'?
That is not the case and it is not the impression in Pakistan. However, I would agree that external forces do have an impact on Pakistan's political environment. When I say external forces, it is the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE too. So let me say that I am fortunate enough that I enjoy respect in these three countries. But to be launched into politics by only external forces is not correct. I need the people's mandate.
Are you using the poor economic and political situation to seek help from external forces?
With nine years experience in government, I know what Pakistan is and how it can be revived because it is the same story as in 1999.
Are you promising financial help?
Certainly, I have to look into the economy because it is the core of everything and unless the economy is revived, nothing can happen. Assistance will be required from foreign friends. I, as much as possible, will not take assistance from abroad because, by nature, I do not believe in going out with a begging bowl. I believe in more trade and not aid.
The West has to pay our debts because we are fighting the war against terrorism and have suffered a lot economically
Have you been promised any financial help by anyone?
I have not spoken to anyone yet. When I am in position to speak, I will speak to them.
What is your stance on the war against terrorism? Do you have a strategy if you come back to power?
My strategy is very clear — military action, political support and will, and social economic development. We are against Al Qaida and the Taliban and also the third element that is extremism in society. There should be modifications in the military strategy now.
What about the increasing drone attacks in Pakistan?
Certainly, drone attacks cannot be allowed. They have created upheaval in Pakistani society and the issue needs to be looked into. Pakistan needs to be given all the resources to be able to handle or engage or neutralise the target.
Do you think Pakistan's nuclear facilities are in danger?
There is no danger under the present circumstances. The danger is if, God forbid, Pakistan disintegrates. The danger is if the Taliban or religious extremists win political power and form the government, but there is no chance of that happening at all.
Another danger is if a group of terrorists attack nuclear sites and take over, but there is absolutely no chance of that. These assets are protected by the 18,000-strong Army Strategic Force.
Given the political turmoil and economic conditions, is there any chance of another military coup in Pakistan?
I don't think there will be another coup. I don't think the army will interfere anymore. I also don't see early elections unless something unusual happens.
When are you going back to Pakistan, will you also go back as part of a ‘deal'? There are some cases against you as well.
I will go back before the next election. There is no case in Pakistani courts. But when I go there, people will initiate politically-inspired cases. Nawaz Sharif will get them initiated but they will have no legal standing.
Some people blame you for Baloch separatist leader Akbar Bugti's murder.
A president cannot be blamed for any such actions or operations because he is not party to the parliament. It is the prime minister who runs the government. I as president cannot be blamed for the killing of Bugti or Benazir Bhutto because the president has got nothing to do with security and any such action.
Do you see any end to terrorism?
Terrorism is a guerrilla war. It is war with IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and suicide bombings. It can continue for a long time.
US has announced it will start withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in 2012, do you think it actually will?
I don't thing they are going to withdraw from Afghanistan. I think they are just talking. We will see when they do it.
How do you see Pakistan's role in Afghanistan? Is it part of the problem?
We are not part of the problem. The problem in Afghanistan is badly affecting Pakistan.
We have to bring in a legitimate government in Afghanistan and a legitimate government means a government which has the majority Pashtuns in a dominant position, not the minority Tajiks because historically Afghanistan has been ruled by Pashtuns.
Pakistan's relationship with India was in the spotlight during your tenure, especially after the Kargil adventure. How do you think the two countries can come closer?
We have to resolve disputes amicably, especially the Kashmir dispute, because that is the cause of a lot of problems including extremism. There is public sympathy among the people of Pakistan that is why there are mujahideen groups massively supported by the people. The allegation that the ISI [Inter-Service Intelligence] or the Pakistan government is supporting them is wrong.
How does a general make so much money to buy flats in London, Dubai and to launch a political party?
First of all, it is my own money. I am being looked after by Harry Walker Agency, which looks after Bill Clinton as well. So I am not a useless man going around giving lectures, they pay me and I am paid very well.
I have friends who are there to give me money and I know I can generate a lot of money. Leave it at that.
Are individuals or states financing you?
We will look into that — leave it for now.
'I was invited to India'
Why were you denied an Indian visa?
[Laughs] They [the Indians] did not give me any reason. I am really upset, disappointed and annoyed. I think it shows, may I say very frankly, a lack of confidence in oneself. Other than that I don't see any reason.
I think the people of India do not dislike me. I am reasonably popular amongst the people of India.
What I have unofficially been told is that they denied me a visa because they believe that I am going to say things about Kashmir, about Muslims of India or about India interfering in Pakistan [especially] Balochistan, during my visit.
It is true that I will say all that because it is a reality and I believe in speaking the truth. But I don't understand that when I go alone and I am alone in front of thousands of people who can question me with all the media there, why they are scared of me.
You can tear me apart, I am giving you a chance. If I say something, counter it with logic but unfortunately there is no logic. It is all on my side.
Will you try to go to India in future?
I was never trying to go there, rather I was invited. If someone invites me again, I will look into that.
- October 7, 1998: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appoints Pervez Musharraf chief of army staff.
- October 12, 1999: Musharraf ousts Sharif and seizes power in a coup.
- June 20, 2001: Musharraf appoints himself president of Pakistan while remaining army chief.
- September 11, 2001: Musharraf pledges Pakistan's support to America after 9/11 attacks, abandoning the Taliban
- April 30, 2002: Holds referendum to secure support to continue as president for a five-year term.
- October 10, 2002: Elections that observers consider flawed install a pro-Musharraf parliament.
- December 30, 2004: Reneges on promise to resign as army chief, gains support of parliament to stay on until 2007.
- September 2006: Launches his autobiography In the Line of Fire in New York.
- November 3, 2007: Declares a state of emergency, suspends the constitution and dismisses Supreme Court judges as the court was set to rule on the legality of his election.
- November 28, 2007: Steps down as army chief, becomes a civilian president.
- December 15, 2007: Lifts the state of emergency.
- February 18, 2008: Musharraf's opponents win parliamentary elections.
- August 8, 2008: Ruling coalition leaders announce they will seek Musharraf's impeachment.
- August 18, 2008: Musharraf announces his resignation.
- November 23, 2008: Goes into self-exile in London
Do you agree with Musharraf's plan? What do you think is the best direction for Pakistan? Share your views below.