His folks at Islamabad had tried to dissuade him from visiting India, said Gen. (retd.) Pervez Musharraf. He knew we would ask him combative questions. That he chose to come nonetheless, and stood his ground at a Q & A session in New Delhi, Saturday last, earned him a standing ovation. His audience included our former army chief Gen. (retd.) V P Mallik, J & K’s Farooq Abdullah, ex-attorney general Soli Sorabjee, ‘Samajwadi’ Amar Singh, leading members from the media and corporate India.
The former Pakistan army general said he was here to talk peace. The burden of his piece was that India and Pakistan would do well to bury their past, stop the blame game; and move on with the confidence-building excercise to bring peace to the region. Citizen Musharraf evidently had problem convincing a sceptical audience. But then, he noted, anyone from India facing a comparable audiance in Pakistan would face the same music. Would someone from India want to try ? Anyway, the Musharraf Q & A, televised by Headlines Today, were moderated by Mr Aroon Purie of India Today. And , thank you, Mr Purie, for a live telecast without commercial break.
Gen.Musharraf would like to see India stop the Pak army and ISI bashing. And in response to a query, he observed the RAW was doing the very thing India accused ISI of; and until they both stopped working against each other, India-Pakistan relations wouldn’t improve. Soli Sorabjee came up with suggestion : How about handing over Dawood Ibrahim to India? When Gen. Musharraf wouldn’t agree that such a hand-over would change ground realities Mr Purie cut in to quip, “why not try it (handing over), sir?”. To which Gen.Musharraf countered, “What, if it doesn’t work? Would he (Dawood Ibrahim) be handed back to us?”.
Gen Musharraf has a way with words. You may recall , during a US visit he was asked by TV guy Jon Stewart, “where is Osama bin Laden ?”
“I don’t know,” deadpanned Gen.Musharraf, “Do you(know where to find him)? You lead on,we’ll follow you” (laughter). This was the fist time a sitting head-of-state appeared on Jon Stewart’s satirical show on Comedy Central.
Next Q: George W Bush and Osama bin Laden; who’d win a popular vote in Pakistan ?
Gen.Musharraf: “I think they’ll both lose miserably”.
I don’t suppose Bush would have taken it kindly. But then, as the general told a questioner at the India Today Conclave, “I don’t believe in hypocrisy”. Now that he is no longer in power, Gen.Musharraf is, presumably, in the process of finding a role for himself; he would like to do whatever he can to further the peace agenda, to promote wider people-to-people contact.
Why not make the general a ‘peace envoy’ for the Indian sub-continent? He might out-shine Tony Blair , Europe’s peace envoy to the Middle-East. Speaking of p2p contact, Gen.Musharraf could use his influence to mobilise young bloggers such as Mayank Austen Soofi to network informed youth in Pakistan and India. They are the ones who would be more amenable to burying the murky past; and moving on, to focus on the positives. New Delhi-based Mayank runs, what the Pak media termed, ‘the website that teaches you neighbourly love’.