By Daphne Barak
LONDON: “President would love to see you” I was told a rainy Sunday afternoon in London. I went to see Musharraf. Frankly, I was as intrigued to see him as he was intrigued to see me. It is very known that the late Benazir Bhutto was like a big sister to me, and I warned her not to go back to Pakistan. Funny enough—from different reasons—he did the same.
We met Sunday afternoon in a private flat in a London location I cannot disclose. The only thing I can say that it was the last location one would have in mind to meet a former president. On the other hand—I have met the late Benazir and her widower Asif in a similar location while they were exiled.
Musharraf was dressed as casual as my producer Erbil and I were. He was wearing a burgundy sweater. The flat we met was very much secured. His people were waiting for us at an agreed meeting point to take us to him.
Musharraf looked so much younger, trimmed, relaxed than I remember. His hairdo was too long. He came across as almost Bohemian. We kissed each other. Musharraf—polished politician? Or—the westernized leader—asked me about Amy Winehouse. Realising that I am nursing my voice, I was immediately served a hot tea with milk. We were discussing the last time we met, while he closed the roads for me and made my presence in Pakistan very confidential. That was not the case famously last time when I was in Pakistan as a guest of Asif Ali Zardari. So Musharraf—obviously asking with sarcasm: “Daphne you are so popular in Pakistan! When are you coming back to Pakistan?”
DB: So where do you live right now?
PM: I still live in Rawalpindi. In the same house you came to interview me and my wife. We are all there.
DB: Is this where you are going to live?
PM: No, no only until the construction on my house in Islamabad finishes.
DB: So what are you doing right now?
PM: I just finished reading my own book. I needed to reflect.
DB: Was your book successful?
PM: I don’t know if the book was successful. I think it was because of the media, but I need to look at the numbers of the publishing house to know how much they sold.
DB: While usually in the publishing world, you should be happy with the advance you get. Are you writing a sequel?
PM: Yes, I am thinking to write another book. And—to go on the lecture circuits.
DB: Did you start writing the book yet?
PM: Not yet. The whole situation in Pakistan got me and others in a state of shock.
DB: Like hitting bottom!
PM: Yes, like hitting bottom. And I agree with you Daphne that after hitting bottom—maybe better things would happen.
DB: Did you sort out your lecture circuits?
PM: Not yet, I am going to start doing it. I am just looking for the right timing and right representative for me.
DB: Do you feel secure in Pakistan right now?
PM: I would not leave Pakistan. It is my home. Am I safe there completely? Of course not. If there are risks but it is not new for me to live with risk. The Army is protecting me. But of course—everything is possible.
DB: Do you intend to stay in Pakistan?
PM: Of course! My son went back to California but I have a daughter who lives in Karachi. She organises musical events. Pakistan is my country. The country is in a very bad shape. I brought foreign investments. I built roads. Nobody invests there anymore.
I am joking with Musharraf that unlike his predecessors, he is the first ruler of Pakistan that has not been executed, put in jail or exiled.
PM: I know you are getting a lot of emails from people who would like to have me back. You told me so! With the current situation in Pakistan it is difficult for them to contact me. I care about my country and I hope you can come and visit without streets being closed around you.
DB: You know Benazir was close to me, like a big sister.
PM: Yes I knew. I also understood what you were doing with your interview with Sanam Bhutto, tribute with Bilawal and so on. You were helping Zardari to win the elections!
DB: I thought I was helping democracy in Pakistan. That’s what Asif kept telling me.
PM: (Musharraf smiles) Well, you are getting lots of feedback from the people of Pakistan. You just told me yourself even members of the PPP (Bhutto’s party) are very disappointed (from Zardari’s conduct).
DB: The frustration conveyed to me, in all these emails, is because of the declining economy and the escalating violence.
PM: This kind of violence has never happened during my time, I made my mind early on that I was going with America against terrorism. I have done anything in my power to block terrorists and fundamentalists. There is only one way to deal with terrorists—to fight them.
DB: Now, on top of it the mess with India.
PM: Well, you know if you don’t fight terror and make sure everybody knows how strong you feel about it you may have problems with other countries like America. And Yes—now the situation with India. This is what terror is all about. By now—it has become a very complicated situation.
DB: You mean that if the current administration would have made it clear how strong they are fighting against terrorism the tension between India and Pakistan wouldn’t have occurred?
PM: (Nodding in agreement) you said it.
DB: One of Zardari’s partners called me desperately recently that he is so upset that he is suicidal and that he is losing his balance.
PM: You mean Zardari’s media partner? He may have lost his balance because he may have drunk too much.
DB: Do you miss the good all days when you were in power?
PM: Not at all! I have found time to spend with my family and friends. But I do care about Pakistan. It is obvious that I keep watching what is going on.
DB: Do you have any message to the people of Pakistan?
PM: Well you told me you were going to send me some of the many emails you get from Pakistani people who are going through pains because of the current situation. I would love to!
DB: Especially young people!
PM: Yeah, I would love to communicate with them. Please do
DB: Actually—many emails are very flattering to you, even some from PPP members.
DB: Many emails are relatively flattering to you. I even have emails from PPP members who say that they never thought they will miss you, but they do.
PM: (Musharraf laughing) the problem is that the media in Pakistan always shows negative images. I don’t watch TV too often, but whenever I do—they show people beating each other, violence in the streets, what kind of image does it give to Pakistan in the eyes of the world.
DB: Isn’t the media supposed to report news worthy events?
PM: Yes, but in a more balanced responsible way.
Towards the end, we mentioned few names of leaders. Musharraf says that he still feels welcomed among them, not the loneliness which comes usually after separation from power. For example—Turkey: “Prime Minister Erdogan has been a very close friend. He is my friend.” So a friendly Musharraf promises to call me soon and returns to the fragile country he left behind.