- Nov 11, 2007
Do you agree with him?
In his first interview with an Israeli newspaper, former president Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan tells Haaretz about Pakistan-U.S. relations, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and how he would solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
LONDON - We are seven minutes early. The woman accompanying me, who has helped set up the interview, suggests we remain seated in her chauffeured car outside the entrance, right off Hyde Park, and wait. Two minutes pass. Three. We both look at our watches. Four. We sit. "The General is very punctual," she explains. "It would not be right to show up early."
A kind-faced servant opens the door, takes our winter coats and leads us into the modest apartment. I seat myself on the puffy couch, accept a glass of icy water, decline a greasy bureka, and glance around: golden decorative swords on the mantle, a sugar bowl featuring Klimt's "The Kiss" on the coffee table, and a big-screen TV tuned to a golf championship, on mute.
And then he walks in, wearing a tweed jacket and beige corduroys, and, since he has just come back from a wedding in the United States the night before, looking a little sleepy: four star general Pervez Musharraf, one of Pakistan's longest serving rulers, who today lives in self imposed exile in London. He shakes my hand warmly, clicks off the golf, and we begin.
Born in 1943 to a prominent family, Musharraf joined the military, zoomed through the ranks and was made chief of the army in 1998. A year later, he took power in a bloodless coup, ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and promising to bring democracy, law and order to Pakistan.
Almost a decade later and under threat of impeachment, Musharraf resigned. But he had already secured his place in history by allying Pakistan with the United States against the Taliban after the September 11 attacks, and going on to play a pivotal role on the world stage in the war against terror. It was a role that required walking a fine line between U.S. demands to crack down on extremism in Pakistan - previously one of only three countries in the world to give diplomatic recognition to the Taliban - and demands at home from an increasingly vocal anti-American Islamist constituency.
This was not the only tightrope act Musharraf attempted to carry out during his time in office. Four years ago, in an interview with Al-Arabiya, the leader of the second largest Muslim country in the world took many by surprise by offering his services as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hinting he would be willing to travel to Israel, a sworn enemy country, as part of this effort.
Two years before, addressing a gathering of the American Jewish Congress in New York (where his presence was in itself highly unusual ) Musharraf all but said that Pakistan could be open to establishing ties with the Jewish State.
As it turned out, he never became a mediator in the conflict, nor were relations forged between Israel and Pakistan. But now Musharraf - who has vowed to return home in the coming months and run for the presidency again - sits down with a Haaretz reporter in his first-ever interview with an Israeli newspaper to revisit these suggestions and chat about the future for his country, ours, and a great deal more.
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"I felt I needed to test the waters in Pakistan when it came to Israel. Yes. We have been anti-Israel in Pakistan because of Palestine, because the Pakistani people are on the side of the Palestinians and are concerned for their plight. Right from the beginning, from when we got our independence in '47 and Israel came into reality a year later, we have been pro-Palestine," begins Musharraf.
"But I believe in realism and in assessing ground realities. I think it's necessary to understand the changing environment, analyze it - and respond. A lot has happened since '48, and one has to adjust. Policies are made, yes, but when the environment changes, policies should change. Policies should not remain constant."
Musharraf is talking about one particular new reality, he admits, or, perhaps, more accurately, one reality that is newly clear to some.
"Israel is a fait accompli," he states. "A lot of the Muslim world have understood that and I know many Muslim countries have relations with Israel, whether above board or covertly. So this is the change in reality I am talking about. Pakistan has to keep demanding the resolution of the Palestinian dispute ... [but] Pakistan also needs to keep readjusting its diplomatic stand toward Israel based on the mere fact that it exists and is not going away."