South Asia

Full Text: Najam Sethi on Pervez Musharaff's Rule, Legacy and Personality

The former Pakistan dictator, who died recently, leaves behind a mixed legacy and is remembered as a 'man of contradictions', Sethi tells Karan Thapar.

Karan Thapar recently interviewed Najam Sethi, editor-in-chief of Friday Times and a former caretaker chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, to understand the man and the rule of General Pervez Musharaff, who passed away on February 5.

In this 40-minute-long interview, Sethi presents Musharaff as a “man of contradictions” recalling his rule over Pakistan between 1999 and 2008. Unlike other dictators, Sethi says, Musharaff encouraged a free press, but also, at times, clamped down on it, tried “enlightened moderation” yet succumbed to conservatives, and tried working out peace with India yet could not see it through. 

Sethi, who personally knew Musharaff, fondly remembers the former Pakistan dictator as someone who is gentle, amiable, candid, and receptive to opposing views. Sethi adds that Mushraff leaves behind a “mixed legacy” but he was unlike any other dictator Pakistan had seen before him. The following is a transcript of the interview, edited lightly for style, clarity and syntax.


Hello and welcome to a special interview for The Wire. Was General Pervez Musharraf a man of contradictions? A military dictator who twice imposed an emergency on his country and yet someone who tolerated and accepted and even encouraged a free press and was happy with tough interviews. A moderate Muslim, who allegedly according to the British press, enjoyed a glass of whiskey but also someone who boasted that he was the strongest supporter of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. An army chief who was the architect of Kargil and then a president who perhaps did more than any other to try and find a solution to the Kashmir issue. So how should we remember General Musharraf? 

Joining me live from Lahore is the editor-in-chief of Friday Times and the former caretaker chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, Najam Sethi.

Sethi, General Musharraf ruled Pakistan for nearly nine years, from 1999 to 2008. First as chief executive and then as president.  it was a bloodless coup that brought him to power after the high drama of prime minister Nawaz Sharif trying to prevent Musharraf, who was army chief at the time, from returning to Pakistan from Sri Lanka. Was the coup welcome and was Musharraf popular in the early years? 

Thank you, Karan. So let’s get cracking on the first question. Yes, I think by the time Musharraf took over, Nawaz Sharif was not terribly popular, especially with the media, he cracked down on it. So there was a sigh of relief in some senses when the Army took over under Musharraf and also following that Musharraf made a very grand opening statement of reform which went down very well with a lot of Pakistanis, liberals especially because he was thought to be a liberal and not an Islamist.

So yes, it began on a fairly auspicious note at home, but abroad hardly anybody knew Musharraf. In fact, the Americans, the Indians, and others knew that he’d been responsible for the Kargil and so, therefore, that’s the sort of problem we faced. 

Now two years after General Musharraf took over, 2001 happened. Musharraf fairly quickly aligned Pakistan very closely with George Bush’s America. It wasn’t a popular decision with everyone in Pakistan, but was it both inevitable and in the circumstances the right decision?

Well, it turns out it wasn’t the right decision but I suppose the thing about Musharraf was he was a pragmatist and he would try and get his way and when he found he couldn’t he would immediately backtrack and try and find other solutions. This is exactly what happened after 9/11 when the Americans threatened to bomb Pakistan and Afghanistan to the stone ages if he didn’t agree, ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’ that philosophy was given to Musharraf and he immediately succumbed to it and said ‘fine we are with you, there’s no question of not being with you’ but over the next 15-20 years Pakistan’s policy regarding Afghanistan whose basis was laid by Musharraf was a bit of a double game.

Also read: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s Former President, Dies

On the one hand, we gave sanctuary to the Taliban which had fled from Afghanistan under American bombing in Pakistan, and on the other hand, we were siding with America to stop the Taliban from destabilising the new Afghan government. 

So right at the end of it, you have Mike McCullen, then George Bush and then Donald Trump basically saying that the Pakistanis began to play us under General Musharraf. So you know Musharraf’s argument was this is in our best interests we can’t afford to antagonise the superpower but we can’t afford to let Afghanistan go down out of a range of interests.

Two quick questions about that. Was Musharraf bullied into supporting America by that threat ‘you’re either with us or against us and we will bomb you to the Stone Age if you don’t support us’? Secondly, he has a reputation for both hunting with the hounds and running with the head. Did he get credit for what looks like duplicity in Pakistan or did people say ‘he’s not even honest to his allies’ which of the two?

I think Pakistanis tend to see such matters in terms of their own self-interest and you know the narrative that was spun by Musbarraf and the security establishment ended up justifying this sort of policy because there was a lot of Anti-Americanism and there still is in Pakistan. So in a sense, the idea was that okay the Americans are giving us a lot of money which by the way has sustained Musharraf during all those difficult years. At least 20 billion dollars came our way and there was a lot of money in those times and the economy was tottering. So yes, I think the army got new weapons, the economy got a new injection of assistance and so everything was hunky-dory.

So there was this game playing, on the one hand, we were giving sanctuary to the Taliban and protecting their leaders in Pakistan, on the other hand, we were telling the Americans that ‘go ahead, you know we’re with you’. So yes, I think Pakistanis generally felt that this was the right policy. Although it now turns out that that policy ended up blowing up in our faces, first by alienating the Americans in due course and now we are having to face the backlash of those policies of supporting the Taliban because now we are having terrorism sponsored from across the border into Pakistan and I’m not talking about India, I’m talking about Afghanistan.

Now for seven years that he was the ruler of your country, your economy grew at 6% something it hasn’t achieved for many years thereafter but was that because of his economic policies, or was it because of the fortuitous beneficence of American Aid?

I mean in my view it was totally because of American foreign aid to Pakistan. As you know the minute that aid dried up after 2000 and 2018-19, as soon as America left Afghanistan we were in trouble because we don’t have enough money to pay for our imports. So we were entirely dependent on this sort of assistance that was coming, directly and indirectly, from American-sponsored or controlled Aid agencies or whether directly in the form of coalition support, as it was called then. 

Now, Musharraf was a military dictator. Even though he sought to legitimise his rule with an election of sorts in 2002 and a confidence vote in 2004, what was the state of individual rights, and in particular, what was the state of press freedoms under his rule? Am I correct in saying that it was under his rule that electronic media proliferated in Pakistan, creating channels that now even today’s governments find very difficult to control?

Yes, you’re absolutely right. Earlier prime ministers, including Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, had not really freed the media. They had put a lid on the number of channels that could operate. As soon as Musharraf came in, he realised that the media had been anti-Benazir and anti-Nawaz Sharif and this was the best way to move them, so he opened up the airspaces and it was an incredible opening and we’ve never looked back since then. There have been hiccups during Imran Khan’s time and of course in the last months of Musharraf when he was in trouble in Pakistan in 2007-08, he clamped down on various channels, including the top channels. He shut them down that very freedom that he gave, both in so to social media and to electronic media. Actually, they ended up being a knife in his back, in a sense, because then there was, as you know, everybody was open to criticism and that’s what they did when he made mistakes he wasn’t spared. 

But, this is one of the interesting contradictions of Musharaff he was a military dictator but he permitted and encouraged a free press and in particular the electronic media and more importantly from an Indian point of view he gave many interviews to Indian journalists, including me, which were pretty tough interviews, but he didn’t put him off and it never held him against them, because he’d repeatedly give interviews again and again. That was a very interesting contradiction in a dictator. Wasn’t it? 

Yes. Well, you know, he was very unlike a dictator in many ways. I knew him personally.  Friday Times was the very first paper to interview him, 15 days after he took over and after that both my wife and I became friends, shall we say, not close friends but friends. We had numerous interactions with him across those years, so I got to know him very well and indeed we ran a funny column on the back page of our paper. It was called ‘Mush and Bush’ where we took the Mickey out of both Musharraf and Bush and he would laugh at it and never asked us to stop publishing that column.

There were occasions when he took umbrage at somewhat I had written, but then a meeting or two later he would back off and say ‘no no that’s okay, it’s okay I don’t mind’. Yes, I think that was a contradiction but you know that sort of contradiction you will find in Musharraf’s policies throughout those eight-nine years that he ruled Pakistan. I mean it was not just the media it was seen in policies on politics, economics, power, India, and many such things. 

But the interesting thing is he was a dictator with a sense of humour. That’s not a quality you associate with, say, Pinochet.

He not only had a sense of humour, but he was also very candid. Often we journalists would be shocked to hear him say things that we thought they would never say on record and I rarely found him to lie outrightly. He had difficulty lying with a straight face, and if you confronted him a little bit more, he would try and give you an idea that you know well this is the way it is. So it was always great to interview him; he was very candid. I think that is one of the reasons why after he left Pakistan, he went on this world tour of lectures where he was very candid about a lot of things. Many things would come under the Official Secrets Act, but he was very candid about them when he talked about them openly which was fantastic from the media’s point of view. 

There’s a wonderful story in today’s Business Standard in New Delhi where apparently it said that the publication’s correspondent tongue in cheek complemented General Musharraf after he had won the 2002 presidential election with a 98% majority which is unheard of in any democracy. And apparently, he turned around and said to the correspondent ‘if you are being sarcastic, I have nothing to say to you but if you are sincere, I thank you’ – which I think was a very artful way of handling an awkward difficult moment.

Yes, there were many such moments. I remember having arguments with him on many issues, I remember him getting angry with me and then I remember him cooling down and saying if he’d invited me for tea he would say ‘stay on for lunch’, and that sort of thing. And we had, you know, a number of interactions with his wife and his mother. I think his mother’s influence was paramount; she was a very cultured lady and highly educated. I think that rubbed off on Musharraf, for he was never impolite, he was never, as you say, very angry, and he would never hold his anger for long. He would always hear and be ready to hear the other person’s point of view even though he may or may not agree with you, so yes, it was always great talking to him. 

Now, in 2007, he abruptly dismissed the Chief Justice of Pakistan thus provoking the massive lawyers’ protest culminating in the second emergency that he had to declare in November of that year. Looking back or maybe even contemporaneously at that time was that one of his biggest mistakes? 

Yes, I think it’s the one that brought him down. We had a free media they had been a great support for Ifthikhar Chaudhary and all of a sudden Musharraf took this in the press, and you know, the details that came out of the way Iftikhar Chaudhary was sacked, shall we say were ‘quite horrific’. In this sense, it was quite autocratic and arrogant the way the Chief Justice of Pakistan was dealt with. In the past when Chief justices have been told frankly where they stand by dictators, there’s never been any leakage about what was said and what was not said and who reacted in what fashion. In this case, the Chief Justice came home and immediately let it be known in terms of what had happened. That led to a great wave of sympathy for him and angst against Musharraf, which of course, led to the lawyers’ movement and then thereby hangs another tale. 

So, Musharraf met his match in Iftikhar Chaudhary. Iftikhar outplayed him by ensuring – rather in an abominable way – he was sacked, was made public and engineered a sympathy wave for him. 

I’m not sure whether it was a thought-out strategy or not. I think Iftikhar Chaudhary was that sort of a man, blunt and straightforward, and not afraid. So, I think he reacted in a very personal sort of way. If perhaps it had been handled in a different way, he might not have reacted the way he did. But apparently, the way the meeting went in the room with Musharraf and General (Parvez) Kayani at that time the then DG ISI, basically told him ‘you are sacked’, and walked out. Iftikhar Chaudhary was shocked and then Kayani tried to calm him down, but at the end of the day, he was told to go home and just felt that this was unacceptable.

When he went home because they realised that this is a maverick chief justice who might actually turn around and say things. They literally sort of put him under house arrest of sorts not formally but that was the impression. I think he revolted and there was a lawyers movement waiting in the wings civil society and the lawyers, because you know, our Pakistan has had these three bouts of martial law none of which lasts longer than a decade and then each one of them tries to open up space for politics and the minute they do, it rebounds on them. So that’s exactly what happened this time. 

In fact, events thereafter led precipitously to Musharraf’s resignation in 2008. If he was popular when he first came to power, was he a disgraced man by the time he was effectively eased up?

Yes, he’d taken on the judiciary and lost that round. He’d held fair elections, but Benazir had been assassinated on the eve of those elections and the informed speculation was that although the Taliban may have done it, there was a contract put on her, and Musharraf did nothing to stop it. In fact, some people say, he may have facilitated something like that, because Benazir had made promises to him which he backtracked on and Musharraf was very angry. She had apparently said to him that “I will not come back before the elections” and then she broke her pledge and returned. That enabled Nawaz Sharif to come back and all of a sudden the game was out of Musharraf’s hands, he had to live with it.

Former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. Photo: PTI

I think Benazir made the allegations that she’d sought security from Musharraf and he declined it. So she ended up having to make her own security arrangements, which clearly weren’t adequate enough, and then everything that happened after her assassination led to the conclusion amongst many minds in Pakistan, including foreign observers who invested and created it, that the very least that that could be said about it was that the government had turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to her pleas for security and that in some way or the other, they were complicit in what happened.

You’ve certainly raised a whole series that we suggest that there were serious questions that Musharraf had to answer about his alleged role, his alleged complicity in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Similar concerns also were raised in your country about the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti. Once again were their questions Musharraf was required to answer and never did?

Yes, he was required to answer those questions, certainly in private conversations. I was part of a private conversation also in which this issue was raised and he shrugged it off. He’d actually made an earlier statement that was made public, basically saying that ‘you can’t hide Bugti, I’m going to come and get you’ that sort of thing which ended up confirming the fact that perhaps they might have been a way of negotiations, but Akbar Bugti was intransigent; he had gone and hold out in a cave with a few of his followers, he was not a threat to anybody and the government then sent in the Army to flush him out and they basically knocked him out. 

He was effectively bombed out of his cave. Wasn’t he by the Pakistan Air Force?

No, not by the Air Force, I think local troops did whatever they had to do. 

But the finger was pointed at General Musharraf, and questions over his alleged role.

Yes, because they just sat there and did nothing. 10 or 15 or 20 days down the line there would have been a surrender of sorts or Akbar might have done something himself but at the end of the day there was a confrontation and he was taken out. 

Now, during the last few years of General Musharraf’s life, he seemed to be locked in a permanent if not ceaseless battle with Pakistan’s courts. In 2019, he was given the death sentence for high treason although that was subsequently revoked in his last years, was he in some sense a fugitive from justice or at least a man running scared of the courts? 

Yes, he was a fugitive for justice which is why he was in exile. In 2012, I think he made an attempt to come back. He thought he might be popular and he had floated his own political party, but then when he came back for a short while, he realised that that was false consciousness and it was all over for him. By that time, of course, cases had been registered against him and then he had difficulty getting out of Pakistan. He did so with the help of the then Army Chief General Sharif who went to Nawaz Sharif and pleaded that Musharraf is let go.

But, of course, the law had to take its course and the courts had to get involved. The courts then gave him the opportunity to go and the prime minister of Pakistan at that time didn’t stand in his way. That says a lot about Nawaz Sharif. He could have made life much more difficult, but he let him go; he said ‘okay fine let’s forget the past’. Musharraf had not been kind to Nawaz Sharif, as you know.

You’re making a very important point that towards the end to be able to get away from Pakistan and escape justice, he had to plead to one of his successors as Army Chief General Raheel Sharif to say ‘help me out’. 

Yes, that’s absolutely true. I know for a fact that Raheel Sharif went to Nawaz Sharif and said ‘please let him go’. Nawaz Sharif said ‘okay if you say so’. 

Let’s at this point come to the relationship with India under the Musharraf years. Kargil happened while he was Army Chief, was he the architect of that terrible mistake? Is Nawaz Sharif right in claiming that Musharraf kept him almost completely in the dark?

The Kargil project is an old project and the file kept being dusted out from time to time, and Benazir, especially during her time, I said no this is not wrong. When Nawaz Sharif became prime minister, I think he was given this story of how this is something that can be done and it will avenge the Siachen loss and also create difficulties for India. I think he was given a rosy picture of how Kashmir could be liberated, that this would be a feather in his cap.

Kargil war. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I think Nawaz Sharif was not given the full details. He was told that the Kashmiris…Mujahideen would rise and there would be some facilitation but we would not be directly involved. Don’t forget that this is the sort of argument that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had given to General Ayub Khan in 1965, where he said when the proposal was that the Kashmiris would rise with some help from Pakistan, but that there would be no direct interventions and in the end, it turned out that that was not the case even in 1965. This was again the same sort of line that was pushed and Nawaz Sharif bought it.

Also read: General Pervez Musharraf: Neither Enlightened nor Moderate

I think he was not strong enough to didn’t have a sense of how things might pan out so he went along with it he was not fully in the picture. I think he was fully in the picture in May. By that time the Indians had also found out what was going on that these weren’t Kashmiris but Pakistani regulars in Mujahideen uniforms and by the time India found out I think Nawaz Sharif also realised that he’d been played and Musharraf then admitted as much to him and then, of course, Nawaz sharif’s wrath rose when he felt not only that he hadn’t been taken into confidence fully. Don’t forget even the Army and even the Navy Chief and the Air Force Chief were not taken into confidence. This was one of their complaints that this Kargil operation was kept secret from them too until they found out later in May because the Kargil operation basically started late in the earlier year when the infiltrations began and they carried on for many months slowly and surreptitiously until they were able to achieve those heights in winter and then hang in there. 

So, I think Nawaz Sharif felt very angry and abused in a sense when he was compelled to go to the United States to meet with President Clinton and ask him to intervene with the Indian government and Vajpayee. Nawaz and Vajpayee had very good relations and Nawaz felt betrayed that his relationship with the Vajpay had been soured in this fashion and so therefore with the retreat began which is what the Indians and the Americans demanded and Nawaz conceded and when the retreat began, the Indians refused to have a ceasefire. So the Pakistani army regulars who were retreating from Target under the understanding or agreement lost many soldiers during the retreat because there was no cover from our side and the Indians refused to hold their fire. So yes, that went down very badly in the Army itself. Eventually, you know we now learned that there was some thought thing rethinking in the Army too following that particular debacle but the fact is that there’s not just Musharraf’s involved. 

There were two other senior Army commanders who were part of this strategy. One was General Aziz, the then chief of staff, and the other was General Mahmoud who was then the DGISI. These three were the ones who had formulated this whole strategy and these two, the other two, actually carried out the coup when Musharraf was not even in Pakistan. When Musharraf landed in Pakistan, he wasn’t sure whether the coup was going to be pro-Musharraf or anti-Musharraf and whether his people had carried out the coup, whether there was some other group that had done it and it took him some time to be reassured that his people had taken control. So it was the other two who had actually convinced Musharraf to do the Kargil thing. They were the two who eventually carried the blame for this, but Musharraf kept them on. After a few years, he got rid of each one of them. 

But you’re saying two very important things there which I just repeat for the sake of an Indian audience. One, that’s the belief that Nawaz Sharif was almost completely in the dark during the critical preparatory stages is not true, he was informed but misled. He was partly informed, he was partly aware, but he was misled just like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1965 had misled Ayub Khan into believing the outcome would be something else. The other important thing you said is that even within the Pakistan Army there was disquiet about the debacle that Kargil ended in, but that debacle, it seems was held against Nawaz Sharif not held against Musharraf, because Musharraf ended up as the dictator of the country.

Yes, but I will just edit that conclusion by saying that the Kargil operation in effect started in October of the earlier year and Nawaz Sharif was not in the loop. I think they brought Nawaz Sharif into the loop after they had scaled the heights and they were in control, that’s when they brought Nawaz Sharif into the group. So I think by large Nawaz was innocent of the conspiracy that had been hatched in Army headquarters by these three critical people. So by the time, Nawaz found out about it or, by the time they briefed him, which I think was some time in February-March of the next year,  he was told that this is Kashmiris and we are going to be facilitating them and this is going to be a big feather in your cap. I don’t think he was taken into confidence at that level. That is why he was so angry when he found out later 

If he was briefed around February-March of 1999, that’s roughly around the time Vajpayee made his historic visit by bus to Lahore, so the briefing happened roughly around that time.

No, in fact, it happened after that. What happened was that when Mr Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif embarked on the bus together, Musharraf already knew that he’d already embarked on a project and there was no way the Army was going to support this new approach that Nawaz Sharif won’t agree with. So the strategy was already in place. Nawaz was not on board. That’s why Nawaz went ahead with the bus diplomacy. Nawaz, I think must have had his first inclination that something was refused to be part of the lineup to receive the Indian Prime Minister and subsequently also created obstacles. It was in March after Vajpayee left and after that great bonhomie was established that Musharraf finally thought it necessary to bring Nawaz Sharif in the loop. 

Now the amazing thing is after Kargil when Musharraf was the ruler of the country, India-Pakistan relations enjoyed one of their warmer spells. I know there was the setback of Agra but then there was considerable progress on the back channel over Kashmir. Not just Khurshid Kasuri, who was Musharaff’s foreign minister, but many in India also believe that the two countries came closer than ever before to a solution to the Kashmir crisis.  First of all, do you agree with the view that Musharraf came closest to a solution than anyone else in Pakistan, secondly how much of the credit goes to Musharraf?

Well, I’ll tell you something. I think Musharraf’s mind was changed on how to approach India by the assassination attempts that took place. It was the jihadis that were carrying out these assassination attempts because they felt that Musharraf had given over to the Americans and they felt that he was now an American agent in Pakistan. I think that’s what knocked him back and he realized that this was an asset that the Army may have used against India but this was an asset that would be used against him for making some new developments or being pragmatic in some ways and they were going to hold him, hostage, because I think that’s when in 2002-2003, he realised this and then he began to have a change of heart in terms of how it was necessary to move forward with India.

If you remember, he had walked out of Agra because the Indians had at the last minute put together a press statement that he wasn’t happy with but this is the same gentleman before he went to Agra, was determined not to give an interview to India. I remember a meeting with him and senior journalists in which everybody said you got to be firm, don’t bargain away Kashmir, and so on and so forth, and he was determined. I remember saying to him but ‘you know you have a problem here with the jihadis and they were going to turn against you’ and he got angry with me in the midst of a big meeting he got angry with me and walked out because I said ‘these guys are going to turn against you have you thought about that’. So that’s the sort of up and down I had with him but then he opened up this extraordinary initiative with India and I think he saw the need for it but here’s the point it was an extraordinary initiative. If it had come to completion think life might have been very different for India and Pakistan and for the Kashmiris.

After he left that there were very senior voices in the Pakistani Army that stood up and said we were never on board with this initiative, it was a bad decision, and he should never have done this but they didn’t have the courage to oppose him and one or two who did oppose him were shunted out of the army, senior generals. So this was not an initiative that he took with the approval of the army’s high command, this was Musharraf and maybe two or three other people and the Army Chief is so powerful he could do these things. 

This is clearly a turning point. Sadly, history lost out on and you’ve also suggested that Musharraf himself was sincere but is it the case that if he hadn’t run into trouble with Iftikhar Chaudhary and his own regime began to unravel, he might have been able to push this through because Khurshid Kasuri writes in his book that the DG-ISI supported it. So did Musharraf if he hadn’t followed have the capacity to push this through or would it have been too much because of the opposition from the army that surfaced afterwards?

Musharraf was a risk taker. He also had an eye for history. I know that he thought that if he could pull it off he would be remembered as a Great Hero and possibly even get a Nobel Prize along with Mr Vajpayee. These are the sort of things that were going through his mind and they had the notion that you could freeze Kashmir for 50 years while the two countries got along. It was a very radical one. Here’s the interesting thing we got into trouble he still wanted to move forward with India during those that last year when he was in trouble but I think the Indians were a little skeptical about his ability to push it through given the fact that he was now faced with many problems.

I also think he said to the Indians ‘look I’m facing a bit of a storm here right now maybe this is not the right time, just hang in there let me get over this and we’ll come back to the table’. So I think on both sides there was a freeze as it were on moving this process forward. If either one of them had insisted, I’m sure it would have gone forward, but Musharraf, I think became cautious. He was under attack, Kashmir was also coming up, and so he sort of held back at that last minute. So, therefore, the Indian government, I think it was Manmohan Singh’s government at that time uh they just sat back and said ‘okay when you already will be ready and of course, it didn’t work out like that’. 

We’re coming to the end of this interview and before I ask you a couple of questions about Musharraf, the man and his character, let me ask you one final question about the ruler. What would be your assessment, your overall view, of the Musharraf years? 

Well, if he’d succeeded in doing two or three things, he would have been remembered with great affection. If he had succeeded in resolving the India-Pakistan issue and if he’d succeeded in letting the press and media and civil society flourish. He would have been remembered very fondly but as it happens that’s not the case. He didn’t succeed in either and his legacy is a very mixed one. 

There are some people who are grieving for him formally, there are some people who are openly criticising him even though Muslim culture says that when somebody’s passed away you should not be overly critical, some people are still critical. Don’t forget that in the last years, the Peshawar High Court actually sentenced him to death and the Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court had very strong words like literally like ‘hang him by the rope until his neck is broken’ and things like that. So, there are strong sentiments

For three days let his body be hanging…

So you know there were strong sentiments and emotions in this country about him. So it’s a mixed legacy. He will be remembered for some of the things he tried to do but failed. He talked about enlightened moderation, but in the end, he succumbed to conservatives. He talked about peace with India but in the end, he couldn’t succeed. He talked about democracy but in the end, he became a dictator. He talked about press freedom, and in the end, he ended up cracking down on them. So yes, and then you know he had a free election even though it was a difficult time we held a free election. It brought the People’s Party to power and the People’s Party then turned around and moved the vote of impeachment against him because of course memories were very vivid at that time because Benazir had just been assassinated and the fingerprints of the state operators are all over the place.

What about Musharraf, the man? Would I be right in saying he was a modern man, a moderate, not a fundamentalist, Muslim but also a man with both charm and a certain sartorial style? He was a snappy dresser and could be very convincing as an interviewee. How much of that would you agree with how much would you disagree with?

Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf. Photo: © Europen Parliament/P.Naj-Oleari

I mean all of it is true at a personal level. He was very amiable. He was never arrogant. He was very candid. He never held grudges. That’s the track record as I said. There was a dinner given for him just before he left Pakistan, and Jugnu and I were there, I remember saying things to him and he heard it. He was still president at that time and she was very critical, she said ‘you’ve done this you’ve let us down’, he heard it all his wife was there his supporters were there they were stunned to silence. He nodded he said yes I accept I’ve made a lot of mistakes he was very humble even right at the end. I think but at the same time, he was a risk-taker. He sometimes held to his position unless persuaded to the country and then he did some terrible things, I mean the Benazir thing, the Akbar Bugti thing, all that could have been avoided. There was no need for all that and it’s a terrible thing to hang over his legacy.

Now, let me quote from the obituary published today by the British newspaper The Telegraph. I’m quoting the paper ‘he enjoyed a glass of whiskey though he was careful never to be seen drinking it in public’. Is that true?

That’s true for a lot of Pakistani politicians, leaders, bureaucrats, journalists and others. 

That I would say personally is what makes them likeable at the end of the day. A little bit of hypocrisy shows that the man is a human being. Tell me if you were to compare Musharraf with Pakistan’s previous military dictators, would you say that he was more in the mould of Ayub Khan than a Zia ul-Haq?

He was certainly no Zia ul-Haq. Zia ul-Haq, nobody remembers with any fondness in this country. There’s no sympathy for him. He’s the architect of everything that went wrong in Pakistan after Zia ul-Haq took over. It’s his legacies that we are still trying to combat, so there’s no forgiveness. Musharraf was a man of many parts and many contradictions. There were likeable things about him and some terrible things that he ended up doing or being responsible for, so I think the debate about Musharraf will continue, it will not end, and that final chapter still has to be written. 

My final question. His body, I believe, is being brought back to Pakistan today. I’m told that the funeral will be in Karachi tomorrow. What is the public’s response to Musharraf’s death?

Not much. Obviously, it’s front-page news. There are editorials and obituaries. All of it points to the sort of issues that you and I have discussed, but there’s no sadness as it were because this end was coming. In a sense, in the end, he became rather a pitiable person, because he was confined to bed and the great Musharraf whose earlier pictures are of a Commando with a pistol and much bravado. This is a man who’d aged and obviously been broken in many ways. 

He felt let down by General Kayani. I might add he felt that General Kayani didn’t do enough to support him or bail him out, which may or may not be true. I think General Kayani had his own issues and problems. He probably wanted to take the Army on a different route. But then General Rahim Sharif bailed him out. Subsequently, the Army High command, even today has been very conscious of the fact that whatever he did, they have to protect their chief because it’s chief, it’s the institution that he represents that has to be protected. So now he’s been given not a state funeral but he’s been given a great funeral and he’s been airlifted in a special plane set by the military. So yes, I think they would like to keep it like that. 

It is absolutely true when you say that towards the end he became a pitiable man. There’s a harrowing picture on the BBC of General Musharraf in bed with an oxygen mask on his face and he clearly looks incapable and dying. And yet, what I remember and I will never forget is that image of him at Karachi Airport. I believe when he just landed from Sri Lanka, a lit cigarette dangled from his lips, a pistol in his hand which I think if I remember correctly he even fired into the air. That was the bravado of the Commando and you then end up with this rather sad and sorry image of the man lying in a hospital bed, probably unconscious.

That image is not from after he landed in Karachi, that image is from an earlier trip when he went to the mountains to brief Nawaz Sharif. That was taken in March of that year with a little cigarette and a pistol in his hand and the BBC made a big show of it.

Absolutely. I thank you Najam Sethi for talking to us and opening our eyes to the contradictions but also the fascinating character of General Musharraf. He was a dictator but he was not your run-of-the-mill tough man there was another side to him and today when he’s died it’s important to remember the disturbing contradictions but it’s also important not to forget the delightful ones and I thank you for reminding us of both.