General Pervez Musharraf was the president of Pakistan, a leading American ally in the war on terror, from 2001-2008. He then voluntarily resigned before what many observers saw as politically motivated impeachment proceedings could be started against him, and went into self-imposed exile. But he has now declared his intention to return to Pakistan on March 24 to contest forthcoming presidential elections.
He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for his support on the war on terror and spoke strongly against Islamic terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
He has been warned that if he returns to Pakistan he faces arrest warrants for allegedly failing to provide adequate security which led to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
But the General has told supporters of his All Pakistan Muslim League political party that he would improve Pakistan’s economy and strengthen foreign investment in the country.
Here, in this exclusive interview, he speaks to Metro as he finalizes preparations to return to his homeland.
What is ailing Pakistan at this time?
Terrorism, especially sectarian terrorism. Law and order has failed especially in places like Balochistan and Karachi. The economy has broken down and there is not enough economic stability and jobs. That is the backbone of a stable country and it has broken down. Also, tensions with India remain.
What do you want to accomplish by your return, and why go now?
Pakistan is a very large country and an important regional player. When I was president I wanted to achieve for Pakistan internal security and stability, regional peace, international acceptability and an improvement and amelioration within the Muslim world.
Internal stability would allow us to examine the welfare and well-being of the population. Why go back now? The elections are to be held in the next few months according the constitution and it is now or never for me. If I am not there to stand for election it will be another five years until I have a chance do so.
What are your chances of success?
If you listen to the commentators they will tell you that my party does not have the internal structure to fight an election. It is simply not true. We are established with organizations across the country and some major political players are just waiting for my return to offer their support. There are a number of people and organizations that I call floaters in Pakistan, and my return will bring hope to them and the chance to work together. Only I can do this. Many people are clamoring for me to return. I would say I have a 50/50 chance of success.
Why are you taking this risk, which must also be physical?
After 9/11 I was resigned to personal risk on a daily basis. It was something that became part of my routine. Because I am ex-president of Pakistan, the authorities must provide me with some security when I return — but of course I also have my own arrangements. I have faith that life and death is out of my hands and I have a duty to return to my country to deal with its problems.
There are legal charges against you in Pakistan, a residue of your presidency. How will you deal with this obstacle?
I will simply appeal to the judicial process. One has to have faith in the courts even though there is a history of judicial activism. I am 100 percent confident that these false, trumped-up and politically motivated charges against me will be thrown out.
With significant U.S. troop withdrawals scheduled, how do you see the strategic situation in Afghanistan playing out over the next, say, three years?
If the U.S. and coalition forces leave lock stock and barrel then after 2014 I can see one of several things happening: a return to how Afghanistan was from 1986-1997, which was vicious tribal warfare — the various ethnic groups fighting each other — or the return of the Pushtun Taliban versus the Northern Alliance of minorities in Afghanistan.
If, however, the U.S. leaves some forces, with air and special forces support which is made available to the Afghan National Army, I can foresee a situation remaining as it is now — not a win and not a loss with the Taliban held at bay.
Otherwise I can see a proxy war being fought in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan. India is active in Afghanistan trying to create an active anti-Pakistan country. Pakistan is logically doing all it can to stop this.
With both U.S. and Israeli military strikes possible, Iran and its nuclear program have been frequently in the news. Pakistan shares a border with Iran. Why should Pakistan be allowed to keep the nuclear weapons it possesses, when Iran, its neighbor, should not?
You cannot compare the two. Pakistan developed nonconventional weapons as a deterrent, as purely a defensive measure. Pakistan faces an existential threat: India. We have fought three wars with India since independence in 1947.
We are the two giants in the region, and it is important that war between us should become unthinkable — which is why we justify our nuclear capability.
Iran has no such similar reason for having nuclear weapons. There is no similar existential threat to Iran as there is to Pakistan, so they cannot want a nuclear program for defensive reasons.
What are the causes of the deterioration in relations between Pakistan and the United States? What could you do to improve them?
I had good relations with George W. Bush to the extent that I could call him up at any time to discuss problems or make suggestions. I believe that trust has been lost somewhat. Pakistan and the U.S. need to restore that level of honesty and trust as Pakistan is such an influence in the region. There needs to be open dialogue, and we need to be honest and transparent with each other once again.
Previously, you were Pakistan’s chief executive. What would you do differently?
The question presumes that there are many things I would do differently. Not necessarily. When I was president, the internal security situation was far more stable than it is now. The economy was growing and there was jobs for the people. Prices were stable and we had consistent gas and electricity supplies and prices. We were able to focus on the welfare of the people, internally. So far as our relationships with India are concerned, I would seek to restart the process of rapprochement I had begun when I was president. We could have signed treaties on two of the major issues that divided us and were working towards a solution in Kashmir, but these opportunities arise, but do not always stay. If they are missed they can be gone. I would try again with India. We are the two biggest countries in the region. We could deliver a huge boost to regional security, stability and economy if we could settle our differences and that is what I would try to do.