Musharraf's 1971, a sob story

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By OUR BUREAU AND PTI in Islamabad
  • Published 24.04.06

Islamabad, April 24: He seized power in a coup, has shrugged off three assassination attempts and rules with an iron fist. But for all the steel in him, Pervez Musharraf “literally wept” when he heard Pakistani troops had surrendered during the 1971 Bangladesh war with India.

The uncharacteristic admission came on First Family, a programme on Pakistan’s state-run PTV where the President, First Lady Sehba and their son Bilal and daughter Ayela Raza shared their experiences and hopes for the country’s future.

Musharraf, who described the 1965 and 1971 wars with India as “important” events in his life, said he was “emotionally hurt” when he heard the “disgusting” news of the surrender.

Over 90,000 Pakistani troops, led by General Niazi, surrendered to the Indian Army in Dhaka. The troops were later released following the Simla agreement between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Musharraf was then serving as a commando but not in East Pakistan, as Bangladesh was then called.

The President also talked about the 1965 war, when he was a second lieutenant in the army, and said he was saved from a lot of perilous situations.

But what about the perils now, especially for a man who has provoked contrasting reactions?

In the nearly seven years he has been in power since he toppled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf has been called a dictator, slammed by fundamentalists for joining the US-led war against terrorism and hailed by America’s President George W. Bush.

Musharraf says he has full support of the army. “Each and every personnel is with me because I have not been a desk-type commander ? I have been living through dangers and hardships with them. They are with me not because of my rank but because they love me and that is leadership.”

But it is not just the present that Musharraf thinks about. He wants to be remembered as the man who saved the nation from the brink of collapse.

“My greatest achievement is economic revival of Pakistan ? the possibility of pulling the country out of deep economic morass looked remote in 1999. It looked almost improbable in the face of an inextricable circle of debt-servicing but we managed it,” he said.

“Not only I saved the country from sinking but I would like to be remembered for taking it forward and putting it on a course to move forward as a dynamic, progressive and enlightened society ? that is what I’ve achieved for Pakistan,” he added. “I must be remembered for protecting the country from economic bankruptcy.”

While he admires Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, as an army officer Musharraf’s favourites have always been Roman and German generals. He is also a great admirer of the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.

Musharraf said he believes in destiny and it was with divine help that he rose from a middle-class background through the ranks of a “mere brigadier” in 1990 to become President.

But his son and daughter never “tell anybody that their father is President of Pakistan”, he said and added that he valued their humility.