On the night of September 17th 2009, former Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf was the guest lecturer at the Trinity University Distinguished Lecture Series in San Antonio, Texas. In many ways it was an historic night. There he was, a man of smallish stature who became President of Pakistan by military coup and served for nearly eight years. Then an election was held, and before it could be completed, Benezir Bhutto, his principal opponent was assassinated leading to the landslide victory by her widower, Asif Zardari as the new President of the country.
Thursday was indeed an historic night. At 7:30, the President of Trinity University, John Brazil, accompanied by Musharraf, entered the auditorium. As he walked on stage, the General repeatedly saluted the crowd, some of who applauded, while others rose to greet their guest. It was almost cartoonish, and yet it would seem from the response of the audience, not at all abnormal to greet a guest lecturer that way.
However, there was a palpable tension in the air throughout the people in attendance. (Laurie Auditorium where the event was held has a capacity of over 2500, and it certainly felt that most of the seats were occupied.) Ostensibly, Musharraf was there to deliver a lecture titled "My View of the World" to an assemblage of faculty, alumni, students and the public. The University made first come, first serve tickets available beginning Monday September 14th that were given to citizens at the box office until the supply was exhausted.
Pervez Musharraf's first words were that he had taken office with a vision of creating a democratic, non-fundamentalist government to empower the people of Pakistan and especially women in the country. He then added that he had enabled private television and independent media. He also commented that he had become controversial worldwide when he became an ally of the United States after the attacks of September 11th. He had now set the stage for his being the sympathetic deposed head of state that many in the audience had come to hear.
In a very academic way, his lecture on "My View of the World" was well organized, almost as if he was a professor of political science rather than the petite despot that he was. As he began to outline the main points of his lecture, he commented that communications technology had transformed the world into a large village in which information travels very quickly and where people had a better understanding of global issues.
How, if he recognizes that information travels fast, could Musharraf presume that people would not know that he had come to power in a military coup, or that many considered him to be complicit in the murder of Benezir Bhutto? What of the BBC report earlier that week that Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, had acknowledged that a deal had been made to allow Musharraf to leave Pakistan?
Mr. Zardari did not name any country, but Pakistan's main opposition party PML-N says Mr. Musharraf was "guaranteed immunity by Saudi Arabia and the UK".
This assertion was seemingly unknown to most in the audience that night. There are denials that any such deal was struck.
As Musharraf outlined the World problems "as he saw them," his agenda and bias became quickly clear.
1) Political disputes that created interfaith disharmony
3) Nuclear concerns including proliferation
4) Economic development ("basically the inequities in water, food and energy that leads to mass migrations and additional environmental tragedies")
Each point is discussed below. This is where Musharraf showed his filtered view of the World.
Political Disputes That Created Interfaith Disharmony
a) He expressed his position that events like the attacks of September 11th, the emergence of al-Qaeda, the creation of Hamas and Hezbollah were all a direct result of the "worldwide sympathy" for the six decades long Palestinian dispute.
b) Other political disputes included the Kashmir region that he blamed on the 1948 UN Resolution and the genocide in Kosovo.
At this point he commented that Muslims were on the receiving end of the blame for terrorism in the World, and that Islam was targeted by design.
Again, and perhaps in a deferential manner, no one in the audience challenged him on his less than veiled expression of anti-Semitism (or, at minimum, an anti-Israeli sentiment).
Musharraf continued then by breaking down the root causes of terrorism and extremism into two periods. The first was from 1979-1989 during the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Essentially, his position was that the rest of the World had mounted a "jihad" against the Soviets, and in so doing, trained and armed the Taliban. Later he stated that while all (or nearly all) Taliban were Pashtun, not all Pashtun were Taliban.
The second period was from 1989-2001. These years he characterized as the "period of disaster" for Pakistan as they were left "high and dry" to deal with the growing "warlordism" and the battle against the now well-armed and trained Mujahadeen. Musharraf blamed the West for training the Taliban and then leaving without retraining, rehabilitating or resettling the fighters and permitting them to remain free roaming. Here Musharraf made an interesting point. He said that Pakistan acknowledged and was willing to deal with the Taliban. He said that he had urged President Clinton to do the same, but that Clinton refused, thus leaving Pakistan without Western support in its defending against the Taliban.
At that point his lecture turned to the events of September 11th and the impact that they had going forward. He acknowledged the importance of the invasion of Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban. Musharraf said that he sought an alliance with the Pashtun as they represented approximately 50% of the population of Afghanistan. Further, he discussed that the Taliban had largely received just financial support from al-Qaeda. This led to al-Qaeda being granted safe havens in the Tribal Agencies that were characterized by abject poverty and illiteracy. From the Pakistani perspective, the counterterrorism strategy was to attempt to maintain border control and prevent Taliban/al-Qaeda from exerting any military, political or economic influence.
To fight terrorism, Musharraf believes that it is essential that alliances be crafted with the Pashtun in Afghanistan since there were Pashtun already in Pakistan, and more work was needed in the Tribal Agencies. He also made clear his view that military casualties were going to mount if there was any hope of defeating terrorism in the South Asia region.
"We need to inject more forces. And may I say we have to defeat it, whatever it costs," he told a near-capacity crowd at Trinity's Laurie Auditorium. "So therefore, may I suggest to this august gathering, we have to accept casualties, ladies and gentlemen..."
...Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 military coup and quit office 13 months ago while facing impeachment, did not specifically say that America had to send more troops.
But in taking the role of elder statesman on behalf of developing countries in Trinity's first lecture series of the new academic year, and perhaps its most heavily guarded ever, he made it clear that more military muscle is needed to turn the tide in a region where terror is growing.
Musharraf also made a point that in his view, "Pakistan was a victim of circumstance and not the perpetrator, and therefore needed support to fight terrorism."
This is an interesting view as he also made a point that Pakistan needed to maintain its sovereignty. Therefore it would not permit foreign troops on its soil, nor in fact, permit the U.S. to use its airspace to attacks emplacements in Afghanistan.
Discussion of Nuclear Weapons in the Region
Indicating that India posed a constant and serious threat to Pakistan, he justified his movement of forces to the Kashmir border. As for the safety of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, he made it clear that Pakistan became a nuclear nation because India tested its nuclear bombs in 1998. Musharraf indicated that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal was safe and that since 2000 an Army Strategic Force Command was assigned to protect the assets. PM said that the possibility of "extremists fighting the army" and acquiring the nukes was not possible; his belief was that a political victory by religious extremists was not possible.
Musharraf made the point that poverty and terrorism are linked. He said that "Islands of prosperity will be drowned in poverty." He further said, "Gross inequity breeds crime and extremism, mass migration and urbanization."
Frankly, there is no dispute with these positions. In fact, I've recently had a paper accepted for presentation at the November 2009 meetings of the SDPS, Transdisciplinary Conference-Workshop on Integrated Systems, Design & Process Science titled "Technology Transfer: A Strategic and Social Imperative for the 21st Century." The premise of the paper is as follows:
This paper addresses the role of technology transfer relating to the 21st century imperatives of resurrecting damaged environments, building strong, emerging economies and fighting or preventing terrorism. While not the sole determining factor, poverty and destitute living conditions in developing regions or countries provide a breeding ground for extremism and terrorism. An objective and proactive means of addressing some of the social causes of terrorism is to establish a strong and vibrant economy in these regions or countries. However, attempts to build new economies on the foundation of a flawed ecosystem or environment are difficult if not impossible to achieve. Therefore, in order to create a new economy in an emerging or developing country, one must first address the environmental issues. A well-defined environmental roadmap can lead to the identification and adoption of technologies that address those defined issues, establishing a more solid underpinning for a new economy. Further, the premise is that since economies in developing countries cannot be built on fragile environments, the environmental status of any these countries in large part influences its vulnerability to extremist/terrorist pressures.
This is for no other reason than the feelings of desperation that result from families being unable to care for themselves, feed their children, provide adequate health care and maintain above poverty level employment opportunities.
The Question and Answer Period
The Q & A period was quite revealing. I had positioned myself directly adjacent to one of the microphones to ensure that I would be among the first to ask a question. Ahead of time, my colleague Steve Schippert and I had discussed a series of questions. I was able to combine two of our questions as "military strategic" queries in the time permitted to ask them.
1.) Can you explain why, with a growing insurgency from within Pakistan against your government, that the Pakistani military continued to commit so much manpower toward a relatively dormant India?
Musharraf's Answer (Paraphrased): Whenever we put resources to our military on the border, they are rotated to other areas, usually within a year. (He defined the word "resources" as guns, ammunition and other materials.)
Pervez is a lot savvier than that and understood the question quite well. He chose not to answer. Perhaps the reason he chose to evade the question was the recent interview in which he defended the decision to divert U.S. military aid to the Indian border.
In an interview with Pakistan's Express News television channel, Musharraf defended the diversion of aid saying: "What we did, we did right. We have to ensure Pakistan's security. From whichever side the threat comes, we will use the entire force there." Cognisant of the repercussions of his comments in Washington, he had retorted: "Whoever wishes to be angry, let them be angry, why should we bother? We have to maintain our security, and the Americans should know, and the whole world should know that we won't compromise our security, and will use the equipment everywhere."
Earlier in the lecture, Musharraf had also said, "Face facts ladies and gentlemen. There is extremism among Indian Muslim youths (citing the Student Islamic Movement of India) and that it is creating a nexus with Pakistani terrorism." He urged that the World look at India, Pakistan and Afghanistan as a region, as opposed to three separate countries.
2.) In your opinion, what will be the impact on Pakistan and Afghanistan if the U.S. pursues a policy of a draw-down and operations on the periphery, to a position of air power only?
Musharraf's Answer: Very clearly and fully, Musharraf's answer to this question was that the only way to defeat the Taliban (and one could read into that "any terrorist group") is to dominate territory, and that a strategy of air power alone would be a "bad move."
Sampling of Additional Audience Questions
One student asked Musharraf, "What would you differently?" His response was that when he became President, he had a vast agenda of reform at a time when Pakistan was on the verge of collapse and the possibility of becoming a failed state. He commented that his "failure" was not achieving the full success of his agenda.
Another student asked, "Did you make any mistakes?" He started by saying that he did not control the lawyers' movement in 2007, but that everything that he did was "very constitutional and legal." In a related comment, he did admit that firing the chief justice was a mistake.
One last student spoke and made a real impression on me (and I think the rest of the audience). He told Musharraf that he had recently gone back to Pakistan thinking that he might go back to the country permanently after his graduation. But, as he related to Musharraf, most of his relatives, his friends, and the people in his village all told him not to come back. To that, Musharraf's response was that that sentiment was a reflection of the lack of confidence in the current government, and not a reflection of the peoples' views of the country.
Others expressed differing levels of disappointment with Musharraf.
According to the previously noted article from BBC News, Mr. Zardari said, "During those talks it was decided that after quitting power, Mr. Musharraf will play golf, but now he is doing other things." Indeed, he is doing other things.
"Mr. Musharraf has been commenting on Pakistani politics and economy lately, and many observers say he may have political ambitions.
Musharraf seems to believe (or at least express publicly) that he did the right thing and believes that he acted in the best interests of Pakistan.
"It was not for United States alone ... it was for Pakistan," he said during a wide-ranging interview with FOX News' Amy Kellogg in London.
"[W]e are a progressive, moderate people, so it was very clear that we cannot accept" the Talibanization of his country, he said, calling it an easy decision to turn his military's sights on the militants.
"They were roaming around our cities and causing terrorist attacks in our cities and all over, and we had to eliminate that."
Frankly, many people would say that he is in denial.
Prior to the beginning of the lecture, I recognized someone in the audience who works in my office building. I leaned over, tapped him on the shoulder and greeted him. After shaking hands, I said to him, "I guess that we're both here to listen to a terrorist." His reaction was stark and striking. He said to me with a glare in his eyes, "I think that your comment shows how little you know and is also racist." But he really didn't know me and I later responded to this gentleman in a private email explaining some of the details of Musharraf's activities.
Rarely do you get a chance to listen to a world leader, even one as disreputable as Musharraf. I know that my friend and colleague Steve Schippert believes that of the entire of cast of characters in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf is the best of a bad bunch. That may be the case. But after being in the same room with Musharraf the other night and listening to him spew his version of the World, while witnessing a relatively passive audience, I felt queasy.
As I was leaving the auditorium I followed three older people down a dimly lit side stairway. One of the women said that at times she had a difficult time understanding him (Musharraf). My response was that for most of the night, I had a hard time agreeing with him. They all laughed and we then went our own ways. And so, too, did Pervez Musharraf.