Like Lincoln, like Musharraf: Meet the new Abe

Read more below

  • Published 4.11.07

Nov. 4: Pervez Musharraf indirectly compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, the American President who gave democracy its most ringing definition, while hard-selling the emergency to his country and the rest of the world last night.

“Abraham Lincoln usurped rights to preserve the union, and Pakistan comes first. Whatever I do is for Pakistan, and whatever anyone else thinks is secondary,” the general said in an address to the nation on television.

Musharraf was referring to the suspension of habeas corpus and other fundamental rights during the American civil war when Lincoln was in power.

The audacious reference is certain to anger Musharraf’s US allies, especially since he drew a parallel with the iconic President whose immortal words — “government of the people, by the people, for the people” — are part of America’s anthem to freedom.

Musharraf appeared on national television just before midnight yesterday and delivered a rambling, 50-minute defence of the decision to clamp the emergency.

He described a government that, faced with terrorist threats and on the verge of destabilisation, could no longer function. The country has been beset by a wave of attacks by Islamic extremists in recent months; those attacks have expanded from tribal areas along the Afghan border to regions farther east that have traditionally been relatively peaceful.


“In my view, this was the simplest way to save Pakistan, to put it back on the right track,” said Musharraf, dressed in black rather than in army uniform, though he signed the decree as the military chief.

At one point in his speech, Musharraf, 64, began speaking in English, saying he wanted to address the US and the West. “I would kindly ask you to understand the criticality of the environment inside Pakistan and around Pakistan,” he said. “Inaction at the moment is suicide for Pakistan, and I cannot allow this country to commit suicide.”

He then quoted Lincoln.

Musharraf vowed to continue to move Pakistan towards democracy but did not specify how. The President said he “hoped” the country could still hold parliamentary elections that had been expected by January.

Musharraf has always justified remaining head of the army by saying he needed to command the fight against terrorism and deliver lasting peace between Pakistan and India.

One of Musharraf's favourite films is the Hollywood blockbuster Gladiator — the tale of an honourable Roman general’s triumph over the wicked emperor who betrayed him.

Many critics say he suffers from a “saviour complex”, thinking he is indispensable.

Born in Delhi in August 1943, Musharraf was four when his parents joined the mass exodus to the new state of Pakistan as the subcontinent was partitioned after Britain granted independence.

His father served in the foreign ministry, while his mother was a teacher. The family subscribed to the same moderate, tolerant brand of Islam practised by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Like Jinnah, Musharraf privately enjoyed a drink and kept pet dogs, regardless of stricter Muslims’ disapproval.

Musharraf earned his first medal during the 1965 war against India, leaping onto a burning artillery gun to remove shells that would have killed comrades had they burst.

As a commando, he had taught himself to overcome fear by lying close to a railway track to stare at an onrushing train without blinking.

He earned US admiration after narrowly surviving two assassination attempts by al Qaida in December 2003.