How did you feel when you heard that General Pervez Musharraf died? Were you sad? Were you very happy? Do you feel a tinge of sadness and regret? Or have you found it difficult to control your pleasure?
Unlike many journalists and politicians who wrote or tweeted about the general after his death, I never actually met the man. I met him at the banquet and then attended his infamous breakfast meeting with the editors during the Agra conference. That’s about it.
My view of him, judging from what I read before I physically laid eyes on him, is that he is a very stupid character who should never be trusted. It is difficult to look kindly on a military dictator who overthrew Pakistan’s legitimately elected government and whose main claim was a sneak attack on Kargil. So, I had to be persuaded to go to Agra and accept his breakfast invitation.
It was only when we sat down to breakfast that I realized I was in the minority. Musharraf went around the table asking the Indian editors what a great chap he was. To my horror, the editors did just that. They treated him with such reverence and sang his praises at such embarrassing lengths that even Musharraf was surprised. I doubt he would have gotten as much love from editors in his own country.
Some of it, I guess, was the Punjabi factor. In that era (but perhaps less so now), many Punjabis believed in the absurd “we’re the same people, yaar,” banality, candle-lighting at the Wagah border that jhappi and pappi foreign policy could not.
This is the only explanation I can find for the behavior of my old friend Vinod Mehta. “Sir,” he said, lunging at Musharraf, “I support you so much that in India they call me your man.”
Musharraf nodded solemnly, took the compliment as his due, and moved on to the next editor, confident that more lewdness would follow.
Do it. And so it goes till Prannoy Roy and I spoil his little party. I said what I thought – this guy is the architect of Kargil. Why should any Indian believe him now?
Musharraf was somewhat incredulous that the chains of fragmentation had so far been unbroken. “Faith, hope?” she bristled. “You should have asked that question before you invited me here. Not after.”
Worse was to follow (at least from Musharraf’s perspective). Musharraf has spent so long talking about the will of the people of Kashmir but isn’t it strange that he himself took power in a military coup not because of the will of the people of Pakistan?
Prannoy and I break up Musharraf’s little love fest with Indian editors and the breakfast ends on a sour note. The Agra Summit itself did, a little later.
That was the sum total of my interactions with Musharraf though he continued to converse with other people. When I interviewed Benazir Bhutto (who was then out of power), he told me that when he was prime minister, he was given a blueprint for the Kargil operation. He rejected it, he said, but the person who presented the plan was Pervez Musharraf.
Still people continue to trust Musharraf. When George W. Bush came to the HT summit, I asked him if he believed that Pakistan was hiding Osama bin Laden. Bush indicated that he did not think Musharraf would do so.
When Manmohan Singh made his first visit to the United Nations as Prime Minister, he was (in my view, rightly so) nervous about meeting Musharraf. But the wise old soldier impressed Singh so much that, to my horror, Singh said on his way back to India: “General Musharraf is a man with whom we can do business.”
On a subsequent visit to New York, for another UN session, Manmohan Singh was looking forward to dinner with Musharraf when, to the consternation of the Indian delegation, the general delivered a combative, vehemently anti-India speech at the UN.It was difficult for Musharraf to escape the circles around Manmohan Singh. Eventually, Singh even threw his weight behind a so-called Kashmir peace deal that he worked out with Musharraf. It was startlingly clear (though not to Manmohan Singh) that not only would it never work but that no one would be able to sell it to the people of their country.
The agreement did not go through, Musharraf’s position in Pakistan weakened and he lost power.
It turns out that Musharraf lied not just to nice old Dr. Singh, but to everyone. He kept Osama hidden all along but managed to convince Bush and the world community that he had no idea where bin Laden was.