PITTSBURGH: Former Pakistan President Musharraf Explains "The World As I See It"
PITTSBURGH: Former Pakistan President Musharraf Explains "The World As I See It"

Pakistani officials announced last week that murder charges had been filed earlier this month against the nation's former president, Pervez Musharraf, who is now on a speaking tour in the US and the UK. Andrew Gilmore, Pitt Law '10, attended one of his lectures in late September…


Having extensively covered the recent legal and political trials and tribulations of Pakistan over the past two years for JURIST's Paper Chase news service, I was thrilled to learn earlier this autumn that former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would be coming to Pittsburgh in late September. His lecture, "The World As I See It," was part of the Robert Morris University "Pittsburgh Speakers Series," and took place at downtown Pittsburgh's historic Heinz Hall on a rainy night. As I took my seat, I noticed a palpable sense of excitement emanating from the crowd. After all, it isn't every day that an American gets to hear the world view of a recently-retired head of state, and Pakistan is a major US partner in the "War on Terror." In addition, Musharraf has an especially checkered history of coup-leading and alleged human rights violations.

The lecture started, as such things often do, with an introduction by a local public radio personality, who highlighted Musharraf's experience and recent past activities in Pakistan. Curiously, I thought, very little mention was made of the controversial issues which arose during Musharraf's tenure as Pakistan's president. Nothing was said of the impact of the anti-Musharraf lawyers' movement, nor of the alleged pro-Taliban activities at the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, or the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

When Musharraf took the stage, he wasted no time in outlining "The World As I See It," telling the audience that his talk was basically broken up into four sections of concern: political disputes leading to international disharmony, the menace of terrorism and extremism, nuclear concerns, and the developmental inequities among states. He started with the issue of political disputes, and essentially incorporated the other topics into it, rather than expounding upon them as separate and distinct areas.

After his outline of the speech, I was even more interested to hear the insights he would bring to the ongoing discussion of these important topics. However, it was at this point that the speech turned into an apology – what seemed to me to be an attempt by Musharraf to justify his actions and address criticisms lodged against him by various parties, both internationally and in Pakistan.

The former president rooted his world view in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, characterizing it as a great source of destabilization in the Middle East as well as the greater Muslim world, saying that all Muslims are emotionally invested in the conflict, regardless of their national identities or affiliations. He went on to say that nearly all of the world's Muslim extremist and terrorist organizations have been inspired by the conflict on some level, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. Whether true or not, I found this to be an interesting idea, but Musharraf's theory that this single conflict was responsible, at least to some extent, for most of the groups making up the "others" in the "War on Terror" seemed too facile. Portraying this conflict as the backdrop against which Muslim-Western relations should be viewed over-simplifies matters.

Musharraf then moved on, discussing the Indian-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir. Like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict writ smaller, he attributed extremist and terrorist organizations and activity in the Indian subcontinent to this unresolved dispute. Specifically, he identified the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba as the immediate progeny of the dispute, and based the group's founding on the disharmony and instability created in Kashmir.

It was at this point that he launched into one of the most intriguing parts of his lecture. Weaving into the discussion the previously-mentioned Palestinian-Israeli and Indian-Pakistani conflicts, he elaborated on the "Muslim perception" of world events from 1979 to the present day. Mentioning Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Chechnya, Iran, and Iraq, Mr. Musharraf stated that because these conflicts all occurred in Muslim lands, and because atrocities of varying degrees were perpetrated against Muslims, Muslims have come to believe that they are being targeted by "others." While Mr. Musharraf stated that this "might not be true," he argued that here, as in many other cases, "perceptions are more dangerous than facts." My first reaction to this idea was one of sympathy, reached by placing myself in the shoes of those whom he described: if I looked around and saw my fellow Muslims as the only ones attacked around the world, I would probably feel persecuted, too. However, that sentiment was quickly replaced by disbelief. How, I wondered (and still wonder), could a sane person look at world events and think that the only conflicts or atrocities committed between 1979 and the present day were against Muslims? I thought of Cold War proxy conflicts in Latin America; Protestant-Catholic wars of attrition in Ireland; the millions raped, tortured and murdered in the Congo; the innocent victims of the Rwandan and Sudanese genocides; the wars in Southeast Asia. All of these events happened after 1979, yet everyone is out to get the Muslims? Mr. Musharraf's words insinuated what remained unsaid: he believes that the West's involvement in world events is biased against Muslims and is the reason for 9/11, and for the ongoing fight against terrorism and extremism. Mr. Musharraf's words stayed with me: perceptions are indeed more dangerous than facts.

Musharraf then walked the audience through his country's role in the defeat of the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan, including the arming of the Taliban and the mujaheddin. Here again, he put the blame for 9/11 and the fight against terrorism and extremism squarely at the foot of the West, specifically the US. After arming and funding the Taliban, according to him, the West and the US left Pakistan "high and dry." In 1989, the US and the West celebrated the end of the Cold War and their defeat of the Soviets, while what Musharraf argued was the main reason for the Soviet collapse – the "Pakistani" victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan – was ignored. He said there was no question of any funding for rebuilding Afghanistan, no "mini-mini-Marshall Plan," as he put it, drawing a hearty laugh from the crowd. Essentially, he said, the US ignored the Taliban, left them to themselves in Afghanistan, armed to the teeth with weapons and an extremist version of Islam provided by the foreign fighters recruited to battle the Soviets, and it was there, with nothing to do, that they coalesced and became al-Qaeda. It was here, Mr. Musharraf stated, that the West made its first blunder: ignoring the mujaheddin and the rebuilding of Afghanistan, and allowed the Taliban/al-Qaeda to emerge from the wreckage of the Soviet defeat. I found it difficult to argue against this theory.

The former president took a more controversial argument in presenting what he believed was the West's second blunder, arguing that the West and the rest of the world should have recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. This approach, he explained, would have opened up the country to foreign missions and embassies as well as the presence of more international organizations – allowing the West and the rest of the world to influence the Taliban from the inside. He believes that this tactic would have presented an easy solution to the Taliban's destruction of the giant Buddha statutes, and might even have allowed the West and the US
to seize Osama bin Laden from the Taliban, in exchange for political or financial concessions.

After having spent a considerable time talking about political disputes and their affect on world events, Musharraf turned to what he perceived to be the elements of Muslim extremism – al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the "Talibanization" of central Pakistan and creeping extremism in that region, and the misuse of schools for extremist purposes. I found this portion of his talk quite informative, as he discussed the intricacies of the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship, including the great influence of the majority Pashtun tribe over the Taliban. I particularly enjoyed hearing his insights about the tactics male Arab mujaheddin fighters used to integrate themselves into the social and tribal fabric of Afghanistan and Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, including marrying and starting families with local women, as a way to ensure the loyalty of the tribal groups and protect themselves from Western and Pakistani forces.

Having touched on the Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir, Musharraf spoke briefly about the nuclear issue. This seemed to me to be more of a message of reassurance to his American audience, soothing words to tell us that he had seen to it during his presidency to safeguard Pakistan's nuclear assets by creating two army corps to control the country's nuclear material. While his words addressed the issue of Pakistan's physical nuclear assets, Musharraf never spoke about the dissemination of Pakistan's nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran, and Libya by its eminent nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan.

After having spent the majority of his lecture on security issues, Musharraf fleetingly addressed developmental inequities among nations, but stressed the importance of this issue, calling it a major problem in the developing world that has led to great political and environmental chaos. With the increasing availability of information via television and the internet, as well as the prosperity globalization has bestowed on limited segments of the societies of developing countries, the "have-nots," living amid abject poverty, illiteracy and desperate living conditions, are able to see first-hand the luxurious lives of the "haves." This in turn has lead to mass urbanization in developing countries, as the rural poor flee their homes for a better life in the cities. Musharraf cited the explosion of population growth in developing countries as a result of this mass urbanization, as opposed to zero or negative population growth in the developed world.

He proposed a number of solutions to this problem, which I found to be quite interesting. Describing foreign sovereign debt and debt service payments as the "biggest drag" on developing countries, Musharraf called for the forgiveness of the debts of well-performing developing countries. Displaying a shrewd sense of timing, he characterized the forgiveness of these debts as being much less costly than other nations' shoring up of domestic corporations in the wake of the recent global financial crisis. He also proposed politically controlling "unscrupulous" developing country leaders who steal their countries' wealth and transfer it to European banks for their own personal and familial profit. Finally, and to my mind, convincingly, he called on the global community to "share knowledge for the mutual development of mankind, including the development of the developing world."

Perhaps the most surreal event of the night happened during the question and answer session. At the beginning of the evening, ushers collected questions written by audience members on slips of paper contained in the program pamphlets. My question was one of those read out loud on stage for Musharraf to answer: "Please discuss your thoughts on the Pakistan lawyers' movement and its role in opposition to your removal of Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry, and declaration of emergency rule and suspension of the Pakistan constitution in November 2007." His answer to that question was wholly unsatisfying. In a soft tone, he mumbled that he suspended Chief Justice Chaudry because there were "allegations" made against him by then-prime minister Shaukat Aziz, and that those unspecified "allegations" were referred to him. Again, Musharraf nearly mumbled that he only sent those "allegations" on to the Supreme Judicial Council, as he was required to do by the constitution, and that in response, the lawyers "came onto the streets, and the situation was politicized." Almost completely glossing over the turbulent late spring, summer, and fall of 2007, he said that "Bhutto came [to Pakistan], got assassinated, and I felt I had to resign." And that was it. No mention of the declaration of emergency rule, no mention of the numerous other judges he himself suspended along with the Chief Justice, and certainly no mention by of his own affirmative act of suspending the constitution. No matter, though, as he told the audience in his final comment of the night: "Whatever I did, whatever actions I took, were validated by the National Assembly of Pakistan and the Supreme Court of Pakistan." Well, then. A marginalized legislative body and a stacked high court can't be wrong, can they?

While I enjoyed Musharraf's lecture, I was left disappointed by his refusal to speak frankly about the events that led to his resignation. Even though he is the former president of Pakistan, he seemed to speak as if he were still an active political figure, but perhaps he is. Two comments struck me in particular, as they relate to the future of Musharraf and Pakistan. While speaking of Pakistan's protection of its nuclear assets, he stated unequivocally that "religious groups will never control Pakistan." Somewhat more ominously, when discussing Taliban incursions into the Swat valley of central Pakistan, he took great pains to stress to the audience that "the whole nation is behind the Army to eliminate the Taliban" and that "the whole country is behind the Army, after their success in Swat, to eliminate the Taliban threat." Coming from a former Army general, commander of the armed forces, and a military officer who seized control of Pakistan from a civilian government in a bloodless coup, I found those statements impossible to ignore. After hearing from Musharraf, I didn't leave with a clear idea of where Pakistan is headed, but I did get a better sense of its recent past.

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.