An Evening With A Tricky Dick

No, I didn’t see Nixon, but Musharraf was his natural successor. However, Stanford University’s hosting of former Pakistani President was not as eventful as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance in Columbia last year.

Magnanimity. The word sounds extremely ironic coming from General Pervez Musharraf—the former President of Pakistan—who displayed little of that in his eight year Presidency. However, magnanimity (on part of India and the international community) is exactly what Mr. Musharraf advocated to solve the recent crisis between India and Pakistan who arose form the Bombay terrorist attacks last month.

Mr. Pervez Musharraf gave a talk and a Q&A session to a packed Memorial Auditorium in Stanford University on his lecture tour on the United States. It is not an extraordinary event; many heads of state do that after they left the office to earn extra cash and to rehabilitate their popularity. (Note to President Bush: don’t do that, unless you want more shoes.) Surprisingly, Mr. Musharraf’s popularity also grew after his resignation last year, partially due to the economic rebound Pakistan witnessed under his rule and to even worse corruption levels in the government that succeeded him.

This polarizing attitude is reflected inside the Memorial Auditorium today. Musharraf said as little as possible (information-wise) in his own talk to the crowd, but the candid Q&A session was wildly received with both boos and cheers by one of the rowdiest audience I have ever seen in an academic setting. The first question-cum-accusation of an Indian student who listed Musharraf’s undemocratic acts starting from his coup d’etat was well-received; so was Musharraf’s strongman reply that he can go back to the podium and justify every single one of those accusations.

The mainstream media also reports this event: here and here. I see however from a totally different perspective. The event is just the reflection of the politics at its worst; Musharraf is a prime example of two classic adages: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” and “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Today, he talked about the global community’s shared commitments to defeat extremism and terrorism, but also defended his Pakistan’s questionable tactics in pursuing those commitments, by underlining the differences between strategies and tactics. However, it seemed Mr. Musharraf’s sole strategy was to remain in power and he no doubt used all tactics in the book.

Last year, A.Q. Khan—the Pakistani scientist accused of selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and DPRK—gave an interview to ABC News saying he had been made a scapegoat by Musharraf and his government to cover up the government’s own involvement in the issue. In this case of he says, she says, Musharraf apparently didn’t have much to say—he defended his detaining (without access even to the Western intelligent services) and somewhat contradictory pardon of A.Q. Khan by using that magic word: “sensitivity”.

On Afghanistan and Taliban, Mr. Musharraf is quick to admit failures but even quicker to point fingers at the West, which abandoned the region after the Cold War ended. Maybe Mr. Musharraf’s statement that CIA/Charlie Wilson’s War was the last nail in the Soviet Union’s coffin is correct, but the West’s sanctions on the Pakistan (which Mr. Musharraf dated to the end of the Cold War) didn’t occurred until Pakistan started pursuing its nuclear ambitions eight years later.

During the heated Q&A session, Musharraf stated he has constitutional authority to sack of the Chief Justice (although he didn’t elaborate on the justification) and that he didn’t consult the legislature because of a conflict of interest between the legislature and the judiciary. He also blamed the bad press he and Pakistan has been receiving to ‘aspersions’ which became an overused word by the end of the talk. He skillfully treaded around the controversial issues of misappropriated U.S. anti-terror assistance funds (by noting Pakistan only received a few billion, as opposed to many billions of aid) and of National Reconciliation Ordinance, which granted amnesty to politicos accused of various crimes which ranged from corruption to terrorism (by taking a shelter behind his empty facade of democracy).

By the end of the talk, Mr. Musharraf’s talk has become nothing but a vacillating effort to redeem his presidency. Whether he was talking about his control over military or Kashmiri crisis or his deportations of Al-Qaeda and Pakistanis to U.S. torture camps, he glorified himself and shifted the blame to the others (not unlike a certain U.S. president a generation before). In his main talk, Mr. Musharraf metaphorically pointed out the tree of terrorism, its branches and ramifications and repeatedly, ad nauseum, emphasized its roots being more political. Yes, I partially agree. Maybe politicians like Musharraf are the root of many problems.

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