Condoleezza Rice reveals all about Benazir-Musharraf NRO deal

The News report by Shaheen Sehbai

WASHINGTON: The big official secret of the NRO deal, brokered by the United States between then President Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, has been revealed in full detail by its sponsor, the former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in her memoirs published here.

She admits everything and reveals all. In graphic detail, Condi has disclosed in her book, “No Higher Honor”, how she toiled for many sleepless nights to bring Musharraf and Benazir together in 2007.

It is for the first time that any American leader has admitted, and so bluntly, that Washington had played the key role to bring the two “moderates”, Musharraf and Benazir, together and a deal was arranged. There have been a number of reports and wide speculation about who brokered the deal but never was this confirmed at such an authentic level.

Coming at a time when President Zardari is seriously ill, Pak-US relations are at the lowest ebb, supplies to Nato are blocked and US has suspended $700 million in aid to Pakistan, the Condi Rice book will create many more problems for the ruling PPP.

The disclosures also come at a time when the NRO has been squarely rejected and declared null and void by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and will now be seen how the detailed disclosures will affect the NRO verdicts which are yet to be implemented in full. The apex court is trying to get its verdicts on NRO implemented.

Condoleezza Rice also reveals that Musharraf was hours away from imposing martial law on August 8, 2007 when she intervened and persuaded him not to do so. “You pulled it off,” President Bush complimented her a day later.

But the real breaking news comes in her description of how she brought Benazir and Musharraf together. No one had any idea of her role in the NRO deal before she decided to spill all the beans in her book.

At the beginning of 2007, she says, Musharraf had asked for help in bridging his differences with Bhutto, the powerful opposition leader who’d lived in self-imposed exile throughout his rule.

“It seemed a long shot, but if the two rivals could come to a power-sharing arrangement, it would shift the weight of politics towards the moderates and undermine the Islamists, as well as Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister who, more so than other prominent figures in Pakistani politics, was suspected of maintaining close ties to the militants.

“Richard Boucher, the assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, became the point man for the US in exploring a deal. Shuttling back and forth between the parties — usually meeting Bhutto in London — Richard got them close enough to make a face-to-face meeting possible. That encounter took place in the UAE in late July, but their discussion was inconclusive. When I talked Musharraf out of declaring a state of emergency, I promised to redouble our efforts to bring the two of them together.

“Boucher shuttled back and forth several times in the fall. By early October, there were four outstanding issues: when would Musharraf shed his military uniform (before or after the elections); would Bhutto and her party colleagues be immunized in the multiple corruption cases against them (including the one against her husband); could she become prime minister despite a constitutional prohibition against a third term (she’d already had two terms); and finally, would Musharraf support her return to Pakistan before the elections?

“I put those questions to Musharraf in a phone call on Oct 3 at 4:47 pm. At 5:47 pm I got back to Bhutto with his response. At 6:18 pm I talked to Musharraf again. At 6:53 pm I called Bhutto. That continued every half hour until 11:28 pm, with nine more calls back and forth.

She continues: “Bhutto was suspicious of Musharraf’s motives and he of hers. A phone call will bring us one step closer to a deal, only to have the next call unravel what had been accomplished. Benazir kept saying that she had to bring her party conference along because they didn’t want a deal with Musharraf. I argued that she had to do it for the good of the country — only an alliance between the two of them would allow elections to take place in a stable environment.

“As I shuttled from phone call to phone call, I asked myself again and again if I was doing the right thing. Power-sharing arrangements are fraught with difficulty because, in general, the parties don’t really want to share power. I was also concerned that we might be accused of interfering in the democratic process. Why not just let the elections happen and let the chips fall where they may?

She writes: “And frankly, both of them had major liabilities and assets: Musharraf had come to power in a coup, but he controlled and was admired by the all-powerful military; Bhutto and her family had severe corruption problems, but she had emerged as a symbol of reform in Pakistan and had generally liberal political impulses. Both rivals were moderates who were willing to fight extremism — at least as much as any Pakistani politician could. A power-sharing arrangement between them would be only one step toward democracy in Pakistan, but I thought it an absolutely essential one before the country could move ahead.

Revealing details Rice says: “I went to bed at about midnight, only to be awakened at 12:41 am by Musharraf. Well, I had said he could call anytime. I called Bhutto at 4:58 am and relayed the latest offer. The next morning, I talked to each of them one more time. They had a tentative deal — not firm but detailed enough that Bhutto would be permitted to return to Pakistan to stand in the parliamentary elections that would be held by mid-January.”

She says the deal had been complicated by rumours that Musharraf planned to take off his uniform only after the presidential elections had taken place; he would stand for president as Pakistan’s army chief of staff. “Bhutto had told me that she didn’t trust him to follow through with his pledge. “I’m taking this as a US guarantee that he will,” she’d said.

Rice says the deal was announced on Oct 4. “When Bhutto returned to Pakistan on Oct 18, her homecoming was met with an assassination attempt as two bombs exploded at the festive rally celebrating her return. She was spared, but nearly 140 people died in the attack.

“Musharraf’s ‘victory’ in the presidential elections on Oct 6 only served to inflame the situation. Throughout that month, the Supreme Court considered a petition that would invalidate the results on the grounds that Musharraf had violated the Constitution by standing for election while serving in a military post. As the decision neared, Musharraf became more agitated — apparently worrying that he might face treason charges if the court acted. This time no amount of intervention on my part — or on the part of the president, who warned him against doing so — could stop him from declaring the state of emergency. On Nov 3 Musharraf suspended the Constitution and fired several top judges, including the country’s chief justice.”

Condi Rice was furious. “HE’S DONE,” I told the president that morning in the Oval Office. “I don’t think so,” he responded. “He’s got the army with him.”

“The president then became emphatic. “I don’t want anyone pulling the rug from under him. The US isn’t going to be in a position of trying to bring him down. I didn’t disagree, but we were on record as favouring Pakistani democracy, and Musharraf had just blown up any chance for a peaceful transfer of power.”

“Mr President,” I said. “I’m on the hook for him to take off his uniform and allow Bhutto to run for prime minister. He made a direct promise to the secretary of state of the US. If he backs off that now, we’ll have no relationship at all in Pakistan — even if we have one with Musharraf.”

“The only other people in the Oval Office were the Vice President, Steve and Josh Bolten, so we could be very direct with one another. “I don’t want people trashing him,” the president said. The vice president added that Musharraf was essential to the war on terror.

“But he’s got no credibility left with the Pakistani people,” I said, Condi writes. “It’s only a matter of time until he’s done.”

I reassured the president that I’d say nothing publicly to undermine Musharraf but insisted that we’d have to criticize the imposition of martial law. We ultimately did, prompting Musharraf to excoriate Anne Patterson for our “abandonment” of him. The president said that he would personally use the time until the upcoming parliamentary elections to counsel with Musharraf and get him to do the right thing: keep his promise to make the contests free and fair. It was a difficult task, but the president pursued it tirelessly.

“The situation in the country continued to deteriorate. We were urging Musharraf almost daily to commit to lifting the state of emergency and holding elections. Finally, on Nov 11, he promised to hold the parliamentary elections in January but defended his decision to impose martial law. President Bush was asked about the situation, and, as we had agreed he called on Musharraf to hold elections and restore the Pakistani constitution. But trying to balance our interests, the president defended Pakistani’s role in cracking down on extremists and made clear that he was still our ally. Some thought this position came a little too close to absolving Musharraf for what he had done. The president and I talked about it. We were in an untenable position. Musharraf needed to lift the state of emergency.

“Bhutto went before the television cameras at her compound in Lahore, where she had been put under house arrest. She told the world that she’d no longer deal with Musharraf, dashing any remaining hope for a power-sharing agreement and setting up a confrontation in the January elections. The plan had been to have Bhutto become the prime minister should her party win the largest share of seats in Parliament, with Musharraf remaining president. That way moderate forces would be united.

“Now the state of emergency allowed Bhutto to back away from the deal. “My dialogue with him is over,” she said.

“I called and asked her to reconsider, but she was firm. Several days later Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan from exile. Musharraf’s house of cards was crumbling.”

Rice says the final act for the beleaguered Pakistani president came as it grew increasingly clear that he was losing support among the army, the institution on which he counted to support his continued rule.

“After painstaking negotiations, he resigned his military post as he’d promised, handing over command to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the day before he was sworn in as president. He finally lifted emergency rule on Dec 15. He would remain president for eight months. But the political reign of Pervez Musharraf was essentially over. Pakistan would have free and fair parliamentary elections, and when Musharraf eventually stepped down, he would do so peacefully. Given the circumstances, that was a significant achievement, and it was in no small part for the president’s persistent work with him.”

The former secretary of state also disclosed that Musharraf was just hours away from imposing martial law on August 8, 2007 but she stopped him.

“I’d been keeping a wary eye on unfolding events in Islamabad, staying in close contact with Anne Patterson, our ambassador. Anne was rightly considered one of our strongest ambassadors in the entire world. She was well connected in Pakistan, with close ties across the political spectrum.

“Anne was always cool as a cucumber, but I could hear the concern in her voice when she called urgently to speak with me on August 8. The cables from the embassy had been tracking reports that Musharraf might declare emergency rule. Now, Anne said, he was about to do it. She would meet with him the next morning.”

“Later in the day I had a previously scheduled meeting with President Bush, and we talked about the need to keep Musharraf from ‘doing something stupid’. I went home that night deeply unsettled by all that I’d heard.

“There was an eight hour time difference between Islamabad and Washington. My phone rang, jerking me out of a deep sleep at about 1.00 AM. Anne was going in to see Musharraf, but she was even more concerned that he was on the verge of imposing martial law than she’d been the night before. I told her to call when she finished her meeting, and I tried to go back to sleep. Thirty minutes later the phone rang again. I’m unsure if I had fallen asleep or not, but I was startled.

“Ma’am, Ambassador Patterson needs to speak to you urgently,” said the young officer on watch in the State Department operations center.

“I think you’d better call him,” Anne said without much of a windup.

“Now?” I asked.

“Yes Madame Secretary,” Anne replied. “I think he’s going to make an announcement before the day is over.”

“Make the arrangements,” I said, and got up to wash my face and gather my thoughts.

“At two O’clock, I got Musharraf on the phone. “Mr President,” I said, “I’ve heard that you have a difficult decision before you.”

I was trying to be respectful but firm. He explained that a national state of emergency was necessary because of the violence in Pakistan. He would still hold elections in the fall, but he had to, as he put it, save his country.

“I implored him not to do it. Pakistan had been taking tentative steps towards democracy, with elections scheduled in a few months. Suspending the constitution by declaring a state of emergency would be a huge step back, and it was hardly clear that it would quell the violence; in fact, it might exacerbate it”.

Musharraf would also, Condi wrote, damage his presidency irrevocably. “You will have no credibility, and I don’t see how you can run for president after you’ve imposed a state of emergency,” I said, hoping that the argument would register.

“We talked back and forth for fifteen minutes or so. I pleaded with him one more time not to do what I feared had become inevitable. There wasn’t much more that I could do. Several hours later, though, Musharraf publicly reaffirmed his commitment to the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections; he said nothing about a state of emergency.

“You pulled it off,” the president said when I spoke with him the next day.

“For the time being,” I responded.

“Do you think you gave him the right advice?” the president asked. “Suppose his enemies come after him now? He’ll blame us.”

“Maybe he’ll just blame me,” I answered.

“Your relationship with him hasn’t been implicated.”

It was clear, though, that Musharraf was on borrowed time in Pakistan. I thought he’d run out his string of luck, a view not widely shared with the administration. The question was how to use the time we’d bought to create better conditions for the upcoming elections. The answer, we believed, lay in forging an alliance between the two strongest political forces in the country: Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Courtesy: The News

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