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Musharraf Was ‘Irrelevant’ Anyway

New America Media, Q&A, Interview with Khalid Hasan, by Viji Sundaram Posted: Aug 19, 2008

Editor’s Note: Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf announced Aug. 18 that he was going to resign for the sake of the nation’s stability, but his political foes say he did it to stave off impeachment proceedings. What lies ahead for Pakistan and its presidency? Khalid Hasan, Washington correspondent of the Lahore-based Daily Times, shares his insights with NAM editor Viji Sundaram.

A lot of people in Pakistan have been calling for President Musharraf’s resignation, but he always said he wouldn’t resign. Did he see this impeachment motion coming?

The whole world saw it coming except Musharraf. He really had no option but to resign. After the Feb. 18 (parliamentary) elections this year, when his party was overthrown, he had become irrelevant. There was no role for him. He should have resigned at that point. Had he done it then, he would have earned the goodwill of his people.

Did he make a deal with the coalition government that he be given legal immunity from future prosecution in exchange for his resignation?

I don’t know if a deal was struck.

In his hour-long televised address announcing his resignation, he talked about how he had lifted his country economically during the nine years he has been in power. Did he?

No he didn’t. In fact, his government has left the country’s economy in shambles. He did not add a single watt of energy to the national grid even though the country has grown industrially, resulting in frequent power outages.

In the last year, in order to win the election, all economic discipline was abandoned. There was reckless borrowing from the central bank. Inflation has shot up.

What is Musharraf’s legacy to his nation? What will he be most remembered for?

Let me start with the bad things: Firstly, he will be remembered for overthrowing a legally elected government of civilians (in 1999, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in power.)

Then he took all the power into his own hands, depriving parliament of any power. And in 2002, he got himself elected through a fraud referendum, using it as an election.

But one of the worst things he did was to sack 60 judges in one go and later keep the chief justice imprisoned in his house for many months. Had Musharraf not done that, he wouldn’t have been hated so much.

What about the good things?

He did a lot to empower women. Because he set aside seats for them in the National Assembly, today there are more women there than in India’s parliament or even in the U.S. Congress.

He allowed the media to flourish and made it possible to license a number of new TV stations. But of course he clamped down on the media when he was in trouble in March 2007.

And he made a serious effort to improve relations between Pakistan and India. He tried very hard to settle the Kashmir issue with India, but the Indian government spurned his offers.

What will happen to him now? Reports say he might leave Pakistan and go into exile.

That’s most likely to happen. One thing is certain. He cannot continue to live in his own country. He violated Article 6 of the Constitution that says if you overthrow a legally constituted government you will hang for it. Because he exercised so much power and control over the country, he managed to keep that from happening.

He might go to Saudi Arabia for a while and then from there to Turkey. And you can’t rule out the possibility that he might even come to the United States after that, where his brother lives. After all, Bush has always considered him an ally and a friend. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the United States was grateful for his cooperation in fighting the war on terror.

People in Pakistan are celebrating Musharraf’s resignation. It must be such a relief for the coalition government to see him go.

Yes, but now with no Musharraf to kick around and blame, the coalition government will have to prove they are capable of resolving Pakistan’s problems, like terrorism. People, and there are 160 million of them in Pakistan, will be watching their government very closely. They will say, ‘Now that you guys are in charge, let’s see what you are going to do for us.’

You have interviewed Musharraf in the past. How did he come across to you?

He’s an affable, friendly and warm person, someone you can have a beer with. He’s essentially a decent man. But unfortunately, he believed in controlling everything. That’s what brought about his ruin.

Related Articles:

Kashmir May Be the Key to Obama’s Counterterrorism Policy

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Links Terrorism and Economy

The Battle for Democracy in Pakistan

Retired Military Generals Ask Musharraf to Step Down

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