Illiteracy, Musharraf's Belly and @ASE

pervez musharraf

He was a General who came to power in a coup. Then he dropped his uniform and became a President. Never one to be too keen on democracy, his time at the helm of nuclear-powered Pakistan was one best-remembered for emergency rule, locking horns with the judiciary and his role in George W. Bush's post-9/11 War on Terror.

Last October Pervez Musharraf visited Ahmed Shihab-Eldin (@ASE) and I onAl Jazeera's The Stream. He brushed off suggestions that the Chief Justice and Prime Minister might order his arrest when he goes back; we spoke of his newfound passion for democracy and how he yearns to return to Pakistan as soon as possible to put that passion into practice (as leader, of course). We also spoke about drones.

He has recently said that he thinks Pakistan's army could use force to stop U.S. drone strikes. During the interview, while his U.S. public relations team watched from the control room, he spoke in strong terms about "unacceptable" violations to "Pakistan's sovereignty" by America.

Curious, since he was the guy who allowed them in the first place.

But he said there was "no such deal at all" with the U.S. Mercifully, there were "only nine" drone attacks that took place during his Presidency.

When we pressed Musharraf on specific drone attacks, including the 2006 strike in Bajaur where 82 people were killed, among them civilians including 25 children, he first claimed he couldn't "exactly remember this" specific incident and unfortunately sometimes some "collateral damage" takes place.

We pressed harder and dug up quotes from former ISI and Army men who subsequently went on record saying Pakistan, as policy, publicly took the blame for that strike, when it was in fact the United States - and that civilians were killed. He lamented the fact that we were looking at "very, very minor issues" and wanted us to focus on "strategic issues instead."

We covered a wide variety of issues with him in the limited time allotted. I prodded and probed, Ahmed delved into the hundreds of responses we had received on Twitter and Facebook and other social media. We regretted that we couldn't get to pose some of the many questions on his controversial policies affecting the people of Pakistan's restive province of Balochistan. As is always the case with television, time was not our friend.

But what was by far the most interesting part of our encounter with Musharraf was when the cameras were turned off.

We were all ambling out of the studio at the Newseum, him flanked by his PR people and just ahead of us, Ahmed and I unhooking our earpieces and microphones, picking up our gadgets and sharing chit-chat with our producer and a couple of interns.


He turned. Stopped. Held out his arms, opened his palms, as if to start a sermon.

"Let me tell you," he said. "All this you were telling me, saying I was a dictator and all that..."

I gulped. "Yes?"

"Well, all this democracy and dictatorship. All these things. Majority of people don't really care about it."

I thought he liked democracy now. He said so in the interview? What's going on?

Pause. We wait.

He continues: "You know Pakistan has 53% illiteracy. 53%! Do you know what people are interested in?"

We shared a glance. Enlighten us dear Mr. President General Musharraf Sahib!

And then, he said nothing.


He lowered his hand to his stocky torso and...rubbed. He rubbed his belly and smiled.

Then, like a Federer forehand winner on the run with little backlift, like a chameleon's leap from complete stillness, Ahmed spoke:

"Mr Musharraf in this day and age, especially after seeing what just happened a few days ago to Gaddafi (lynched by his own people) I don't think you can get away with talking like that anymore."


Pervez Musharraf said goodbye, and left us forever.