Pervez Musharraf in the San Francisco Bay Area
As a part of his 15 venue lecture tour in the US, Pervez Musharraf appeared at the Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael on October 8. Speaking to an audience of over 1700 (that paid $200 to $500 and more per person to hear the former president of Pakistan), Musharraf spoke for almost an hour and shared his thoughts on the War on Terror, the nature of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, India-Pakistan relations, and effective leadership and management skills.
Defending his former employer Musharraf said both the Pakistan Army and the ISI were fully committed to fight the Taliban and the “trust deficit” that is presently seen between the US and the Pakistani forces was dangerous—it was not the right way to fight a war that needed a very focused approach.
Explaining the nature of the threat the West faces Musharraf said the Taliban were part of the obscurantist elements in the Muslim world that provided a nurturing environment for the extremists that had a more global agenda. He added that certain long simmering conflicts around the world were providing a sort of justification for the extremist elements to act violently. Musharraf said Muslims themselves were responsible for lacking in science and technology.
Musharraf said that the Taliban in Pakistan were not a monolith. He named the various factions in northern Pakistan, all calling themselves to be the Taliban, but headed by different leaders rivals to each other. He said those divisions between various Taliban groups was good news for the coalition fighting them.
On the possible outcome of the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan Musharraf said that even if Al-Qaeda were thoroughly defeated, a future come-back of the Taliban would provide a supportive environment for other extremist elements having an agenda similar to Al-Qaeda’s. He said military expeditions only buy time; the political process provides more long-term results and in order for the political process to succeed there should be a socio-economic development plan in place.
Trying to allay a prevalent fear present in the West Musharraf said there were only two ways Pakistan’s nuclear arms could go in the hands of the extremists: either if the militants become stronger than the Pakistan Army and overwhelm the army, or if the militants come to power through the political process and form the government. He said both those scenarios were highly unlikely. He said his government put a modern command and control system in place to avoid any accidental use of the nuclear weapons.
Touting his achievements in office Musharraf claimed that when he came to power the economy was in bad shape and the country was on the verge of defaulting on its loan payments, but by the time he left, the World Bank—in fact it was the Goldman Sachs--placed Pakistan in its list of the Next Eleven emerging economies (after the BRIC countries).
Musharraf said when he took office he had no clue about the economy, but he was ready to learn and he had no inhibitions about learning. He said the economists love to speak in high-flown jargon and say the obvious in complex words. Musharraf said he ultimately learned about the economy in the most basic terms, that the challenge is to balance the income and expenditure of the country. He said the Chinese Premier told him about the two dilemmas developing countries face. First, the dilemma of coping with the debt to GDP ratio—you need to borrow to develop, but the country’s development can be hampered by too much borrowing; and second, the dilemma of having a good foreign exchange reserve in order to attract the foreign investors—you want to increase your foreign exchange reserves to attract the foreign investors, but you need foreign investment to increase your foreign exchange reserves. He said he heed the advice that foreign investors are like pigeons, they come one by one, but take off en masse when things go wrong in a country. He said the foreign investors left Pakistan when the foreign currency accounts were frozen in the regime before his. He claimed he improved the environment to attract foreign investors and was able to get the Pakistani foreign exchange reserves to record heights. He said that Pakistan’s debt to GDP ratio was more than 100% when he took office, but he managed to bring this ratio down to just a bit over 50% during his rule.
Speaking of lessons he learned while being in the highest office in Pakistan, he said successful resolution of conflicts requires that the opponents enter the negotiations with an open mind without any preconditions, that they be ready to give, and that they be bold because when they would give to the other party there would always be a segment back home that would agitate. He said that in any negotiations a moment comes when the deal needs to be closed. If that fleeting moment passes without fruition, the opportunity is lost. Musharraf said he and Vajpayee had come very close to settle many India-Pakistan conflicts, but the opportunity was missed and “now we are back to square one.”
Sharing his thoughts on leadership Musharraf said that effective leadership is two-third analysis and one-third taking a leap in the dark. If you increase the analysis part beyond two-third then you won’t take timely decisions—he called it the condition of paralysis through analysis. Conversely, if you reduce the analysis part and are too eager to take a leap in the dark then you can create trouble for your followers.
Answering a question about what the Bush administration told him that made him decide to side with the US in the War on terror, Musharraf said that contrary to the popular belief that after receiving a phone call from the US State Department Pakistan right away joined the coalition, it took seven days for him and his associates to make up their minds and there was a lot of deliberation on at what terms Pakistan should become a partner in the war.