Friday, February 3, 2023

“We had agreed upon the LOC becoming the official border”

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In an exclusive interview, former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf tells India Legal that L.K. Advani derailed peace talks between him and Atal Behari Vajpayee.

By Rajshri Rai

Narendra Modi began his innings as the prime minister by giving out a loud signal that he wants to engage India’s neighbors in a dialogue. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, showing equal eagerness to bridge the gap, accepted Modi’s invitation to attend the swearing in and had a meeting to discuss relations. Weeks after that optimistic ice breaker, Pakistan’s forces opened fire on the Indian positions in Jammu region, forcing India to retaliate. Sadly, each time civilian governments want to build bridges, instances of cross-border firing or terrorism end up derailing the process. It is more than clear that army generals in Pakistan would rather thrive on conflict.

(FILES) In this picture taken on July 14

Fifteen months before Narendra Modi took oath as prime minister, I met Gen Pervez Musharraf, the army chief who derailed the peace process set in motion by the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999 by launching the Kargil offensive and staging a coup against Sharif. I met him in his small apartment in Dubai, where he was biding time, waiting to return to Pakistan to participate in elections. He was a far cry from the general who had once held sway in world affairs, to the extent of dictating American policy in Asia. To me, Musharraf had always come across as a dagger-in-the-cloak leader. But on this occasion, he came across as a different person. I got the sense that he wanted to talk about several issues, as if he wanted to apologize for his wrongdoings.

He expressed his desire to go back to Pakistan, even though he realized he could be arrested. “It’s more painful to live like this, in a foreign land.” Of course, that was then. In April this year, he was desperately trying his best to leave the country, and had moved the Sindh High Court to grant him permission to do so.

While the flat where I met Musharraf was no doubt small for a person who had lived life king-size in Pakistan, the hospitality was still stately. As he served kheer, he told me that during the Agra Summit in 2001, when he met Vajpayee as the president of Pakistan to discuss peace, he had made a personal request to Vajpayee to make kheer for him. His wish was granted during his next India visit in 2005.“I must say my kheer can’t beat his kheer,” he admitted. Though our meeting happened months before both the countries went for polls, given the developments on the bilateral front since power changed hands in India in May 2014, the general’s views provide an insight into how the Pakistani army thinks.



After a hectic life in Pakistan, how are you coping with loneliness in Dubai? It’s difficult indeed. As far as money is concerned, what I have earned by giving lectures is more than what I earned during my entire life in Pakistan. But I miss the company of people. I will go back to Pakistan. I know I might be arrested. But it’s better to be in custody there than live under undeclared surveillance here.

You were popular in Pakistan and a successful president. What went wrong?

I failed in dealing with hardliners. I wanted to deal with them firmly, but my colleagues preferred a softer approach. There was a considerable delay in sending troops to Lal Masjid—almost a year. And those who had initially supported me in sending the troops later started criticizing me. Just as those who had initially supported Indira Gandhi when she imposed Emergency, later rose up in opposition. But, I have no regrets. I did what was in the best interest of Pakistan.

What were the reasons behind your decision to attack India (Kargil War) when Nawaz Sharif was in talks with India to improve relations?

No doubt it was a mistake, which cost both India and Pakistan. Although I have maintained that Pakistan was not to blame for the Kargil conflict, but to tell the truth, Pakistan’s army was involved. The Indian border in that region was very porous and suited our purpose. But Nawaz Sharif is lying when he says he had no knowledge about the attack. He was told everything.

Why did talks break down during the Agra Summit in 2001?

A dialogue between India and Pakistan depends upon the personalities who are leading the countries. For example, a Manmohan Singh-Asif Ali Zardari talk won’t yield any result because both are weak personalities. In my view, dialogue between Indira Gandhi and Zia-ul-Haq and between Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto could have yielded results. Similar equation existed vis-à-vis Atal Bihari Vajpayee and me, because he was a popular leader with a tremendous grasp over political matters and he wanted a lasting solution to the problem.

On the other hand, I might have erred, but during my tenure in the army I had seen so many people dying. Kargil had been under my direct control for 20 years. I know this region like the back of my hand. In my view, the time was just right for talks—in fact we had agreed upon the line of actual control (being the official border) during our talks. But then entered Lal Krishna Advani and ruined the whole thing.

I was very upset and wanted to return without meeting Atalji. But my diplomatic team advised me to meet him before leaving. I asked him: “Is there anyone more important than you in India and Pakistan? But had I known this, I would have done my homework on that person.” Atalji remained silent, and then patting me, said that someday a solution will be found.

Many Indians believe that you have tried to vitiate the atmosphere in India through the ISI. (Interrupting) More powerful than ISI are RAW and IB. ISI is nowhere in comparison; it pains me that what the ISI does in India, RAW and IB do in Pakistan.

Why do people accuse you of working as a stooge of America?

The truth is that American interference in both India and Pakistan has increased tremendously over the years. Pakistan’s economy depends to a large extent on American support, so much so that we have to factor in American help even while preparing our budget blueprint.

But having said that how do you explain American interference in India? Do you really think so?

Of course. If that was not the case, why was Natwar Singh removed? The Volcker Report had been made public as early as 2001 and even the Vajpayee government had not acted on it. But, the same report suddenly became important (in 2005) on account of (Natwar Singh’s) opposition to the nuclear deal. All that Natwar Singh did was to write a letter to Saddam Hussain, in which he mentioned knowing the bearer of the letter. He was not even an MP then. I would not like to say anything else.

Narendra Modi is emerging as a popular leader. If he becomes the prime minister after the 2014 elections, what will be the future of India-Pakistan relations?

I have never met him. From what I have read, it’s not a positive image, but I have also heard that he has done a lot of work in Gujarat. I will be able to comment on him only if I get a chance to meet him. Just like I did not have a positive impression about Vajpayeeji, but after meeting him my impression changed and we used to converse on phone too.

How do you visualize things if Modi becomes the prime minister of India?

Look, the relations between the two countries are very fragile, and things can improve only when we have strong governments in both the countries. India has had strong governments, but Pakistan has been less fortunate. Our problems can be solved if Modi emerges as a strong PM and Pakistan gets a strong government, in which its army has faith. The best time for dialogue was when I was in talks with Vajpayeeji. I want both the countries to have strong and popular governments, so that their citizens accept their decisions.

Why didn’t you provide adequate security to Benazir Bhutto in 2007?

I was wrong there. But Benazir wanted permission for security from abroad. In my understanding, it was not possible to give permission to a foreign security team to safeguard a Pakistani national. But now I think I should have deviated from the convention.

When are you next coming to India for kheer?

(Laughs) Inshallah, very soon. But unfortunately Vajpayeeji won’t be able to make it. I pray to Allah for his health.

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