| Musharraf with Stewart at the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in New York. (AP)
Sept. 27: History may look askance at Pervez Musharraf’s version of South Asian and world affairs, but boy does he know how to sell!
The author made it evident that the just-released book is up for at least one revision, the part where he says CIA paid the Pakistan government for turning over al Qaida suspects.
At the same time, he worked the American media like a pro to blaze a trail to the market for In the Line of Fire.
First he nearly got President George W. Bush to tell the world “Go, buy his book” and then the general went so far as to appear on a comedy show on US television.
The first ruling head of state on the late-night Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Musharraf, looking relaxed in a brown suit and orange tie, sailed through his 15 minutes of comedy fame.
He managed to joke about Osama bin Laden — “If you know where he is, lead on. We’ll follow” — and Bush. “They’d both lose miserably,” he chortled, when asked which of the two would win a popular vote in Pakistan.
All in the name of selling the book. It’s doing rather well internationally, number two on the bestseller list of amazon.com, the biggest online store. And in India, too, thank you very much, says the publisher.
So what if those who share recent history with Musharraf don’t agree with much of what he writes'
In an interview with another TV channel, the President squirmed when he was read out the passage where he says the CIA paid prize money to the government of Pakistan for handing over al Qaida elements. “You know, I don’t know whether this is to the government of Pakistan. I don’t think I wrote ‘the government of Pakistan’.”
When told that Page 237 actually says that and asked if he wanted to revise, Musharraf said: “Yes. I think that if it is written ‘government of Pakistan’, yes.”
“Certainly not the government, not the government... No, government of Pakistan hasn’t received anything,” he said.
There was outrage in the Bush administration over the claim because such payment is banned under US law.
New Delhi may want entire chapters to be excised. Kargil, for instance. Or Agra.
In fact, even in Pakistan, Musharraf’s Kargil boasts have drawn expressions of disbelief.
Nisar Ali Khan, leader of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party, said that at a meeting of the cabinet committee on defence in the governor’s house in Lahore during the Kargil operation, Musharraf had admitted that it was a failure and the army was in “great trouble”.
Khan said Musharraf had deplored the poor performance of the army at the meeting.
In the book, though, he claims Kargil was a tactical victory, “a landmark in the history of Pakistani army”.
Trouble for Musharraf in Pakistan could be much more than just a denial from Atal Bihari Vajpayee that there was no “someone above” who scuttled the Agra summit.
Khan said the Opposition would summon a special session of the National Assembly to discuss the book, which was a “pack of lies”, as it was illegal for a public servant to reveal state secrets.
“Whatever he has written is a national shame.”
He said the Opposition would jointly discuss if it should take the President to court.
Ahsan Iqbal, another leader of the party, said the general wrote his own first information report in the book and that there was now no need to file a case as In the Line of Fire itself was a chargesheet against him.
Just why Musharraf chose to write his autobiography while still holding office has perplexed many Pakistanis. The puzzlement would have increased seeing the adverse diplomatic vibes it’s getting from the US and India.
“I think he wrote this book at a time when he is thoroughly discredited,” Roedad Khan, a former senior bureaucrat, told Reuters.
The reference was to Musharraf’s growing unpopularity for holding on to both the offices of President and military chief.
Khan believes it’s written with an eye on western leaders. “He is telling the West that you have to keep me there, if you want to win the war on terror.”
The President admitted that he had gone against the advice of aides to write a memoir that could rile the US and India.
“But like a good military leader, I took the decision against the major part of their advice,” he said in New York.
Like a good marketer, too, he might have added.
Last week he dodged a question at a news conference with Bush, saying he was under obligation to his publishers not to discuss the relevant episode.
“In other words, ‘buy the book’ is what he’s saying,” Bush joked.