From President’s desk
Having opted for the Army, while at the Pakistan Military Academy, I almost got thrown out for some disciplinary lapse. As a young Second Lieutenant, Court Martial proceedings were initiated against me for another disciplinary infringement. War with India broke out just in time to block the proceedings. My subsequent war performance and a gallantry award finally saved me from the Court Martial. As a young officer before marriage my bluntness and indiscipline landed me in many a serious trouble with “red ink entries” piling up in my service record.
Inspite of my high professional performance on ground my discipline record almost obstructed my promotion to Lieutenant Colonel rank. As a Brigadier on course at the Royal College of Defence Studies, London, my name was initially dropped from the list of recommended promotees to the Major General rank by then Prime Minister for some unknown reasons.
My promotion as the Army Chief is next only to a miracle (inspite of my qualitative edge), seen within all the seniority manipulations, negative propaganda against me and my character assassination. Together with this turbulence in my career, I was lucky to escape certain death three times (other than during war) before I became the Chief. Circumstances did not ease up even after I reached the pinnacle of my military career. The aircraft that I was traveling in was almost made to crash by an ex-Prime Minister. As the President of Pakistan I have escaped assassination attempts three times. This makes for some kind of a record for the Guinness Book of Records. I call myself “Lucky”. Napoleon had said, besides all qualities a leader has to be lucky to succeed. Therefore, I must succeed.
I am the son of middle class, educated and working parents, who migrated from India on creation of Pakistan. I have memories of a hard life. Subsequently, living seven years in Turkey in early childhood influenced my thoughts, perceptions and way of life besides fixing me on course for a military career. My military life has been most eventful and interesting. I have participated both in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan Wars. In 1965, as a young Second Lieutenant, I was a part of the First Armoured Division which saw maximum action on three different fronts. I realized I had a special penchant for action which endeared me to my men. While I was reputed to be an officer of high caliber officer, my erraticism earlier in my career almost marginalized me professionally. My marriage salvaged me to a great extent, sobering me down to my professional advantage. My seven years stint with the Special Services Group honed my professional outlook, gave me tremendous self confidence and taught me real leadership. My very high profile instructional and staff appointments polished my speaking skills and developed clarity and logic in my thought. My involvement at the decision making level started with my high profile appointment as Director General Military Operations in 1993. I remained a part of all important military activity influencing the Nation since then till I was appointed the Army Chief in October 1998.
I did not launch a coup to take over Pakistan, it was actually a counter coup which handed over the nation to me in a plate. I was returning from Sri Lanka to Pakistan on a commercial flight when the most preposterous action of my plane, in the air, being hijacked by the Prime Minster, from the ground, took place. We were ordered to leave Pakistan‘s air space, lights were put out at the Karachi airport where I was to land and fire tenders burnt to block the runway. The two hours hijacking melodrama that followed finally resulted in my landing safely and the toppling of the Nawaz Sharif Government. I inherited a Nation at its lowest – ready to be declared a “Failed State” a “Defaulted State” or even a “State”. My life and my career had groomed me well for the challenges that lay ahead but I was extremely conscious of my handicap of a complete ignorance of economy and fiscal functioning of state. The first thing I did was to gather my thoughts and spell out a seven point agenda for total restructuring of Pakistan . From these seven points, I extracted four areas of Government focus. Forming my cabinet was a genuine exercise in Pakistani talent merit hunt. I was again lucky to have made the right choices and we all, together, followed implementation of the four areas of focus with single minded devotion. God rewarded our honesty, dedication and hard work. Not only did I learn economy and governance on job but we turned the Nation’s fortunes around. An institutionalized system of accountability of the rich and powerful brought transparency and honesty into government functioning.
Nine eleven came as a thunder bolt. I confronted acute challenges on one side but also saw great opportunities on the other. I decided on the route of opportunities. I had to absorb external pressure and mould domestic opinion towards my decision. It was a tough decision to side with the US and the Coalition to fight terrorism. Domestic opinion was divided but I saw that the vast majority of moderates were behind me, while the religious extremists got violently against. We surmounted domestic pressures with courage and perseverance. While the economy kept moving forward (with additional external assistance) the schism between the minority of extremists and vast majority moderates kept increasing. The Nation was faced with the challenges of sectarian and religious terrorism. We acquitted ourselves well and continue to do so. Our fight against Al Qaeda in our cities and mountains is leading towards success. Today we face the uphill task of bringing about a societal renaissance by ridding Pakistan of the dominance of an extremist, minority and establishing the unequivocal authority of the silent, dormant, vast moderate majority.
Ironical as it may sound I am a strong believer in democracy — albeit in the real essence of democracy and not the superficial facade of merely an elected Government. Political restructuring was one of the four areas of focus fixed right in the beginning. We examined why democracy remained dysfunctional in Pakistan and addressed the core malaise. We empowered the people of Pakistan at the grass roots, we empowered the women of Pakistan, we empowered the minorities and also introduced institutional checks and balances. The media was removed from its shackles. Complete freedom of speech and expression was allowed. Multiple private TV channels were allowed for the first time in the history of Pakistan . Elections were held on time in accordance with the Supreme Court verdict and power to govern handed over to a civil elected Government. Seeds of a sustainable true democracy have been laid. It is now to be consolidated.
As I said there has never been a dull moment in my life. While all this multi-directional nation restructuring was going on, I was confronted with perhaps one of my biggest challenge. The international accusation of Pakistan being a nuclear proliferator. All fingers pointed towards the Nation’s Scientist hero, Dr. AQ Khan. The Nation loved him but the world saw in him a rogue to be punished. I found myself between the devil and the deep sea. I maneuvered a decision and tried to sell it internationally and domestically with fingers crossed. I succeeded in easing the pressure on Pakistan and moulding domestic public opinion in favour of my action.
While the domestic environment was as it was and the US Coalition forces were battling Al Qaeda/Taliban in the Afghan countryside, four serious accusations were hurled at Pakistan:
a. All the terrorist activity in Afghanistan had its base in Pakistan
b. All the freedom struggle in Indian Held Kashmir was Cross Border Terrorism from Pakistan
c. All nuclear proliferation in the world had its source in Pakistan
d. Pakistan is an intolerant militant extremist society
I had to battle against these accusations single handedly to cool international temperatures against Pakistan . I have succeeded considerably but not sufficiently to project the reality of Pakistan as a progressive, moderate Islamic State.
Within this whole turmoil and upheaval my person came under threat from terrorists. A powerful car bomb located critically on my travel route in Karachi to explode into my car failed to activate. A most powerful, remotely controlled bomb ripped a bridge apart just a few seconds after my motorcade crossed it. Finally, two suicide bombers attacked my motorcade one after the other within a distance of 200 yards. I escaped unhurt. Luck was on my side. I celebrated my escape by attending a marriage celebration in the evening.
All this while, our relations with our arch enemy India saw several ups and downs. There was the much trumpeted bus journey of Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee to Pakistan in 1998 and my supposed refusal as the Army Chief to meet or shake hands with him. Then came the Kargil Operation with all its reality and distortions. It proved a lesson to the Indians and a rude awakening to the world of the reality of Kashmir. Heightened temperatures were tried to be cooled by me through my famous handshake with PM Vajpayee at the Katmandu SAARC Summit. The Agra summit saw a great breakthrough but ended up in a disappointing failure under the negative influence of some radical Indian Government functionaries in particular Mr. Advani. Later accusing Pakistan of involvement in an unfortunate terrorist attack on Indian Parliament, India decided to mobilize and amass its entire Army and Air Force on Pakistan‘s borders in a mass show of strength to coerce Pakistan. We moved forward our forces also and stood our ground firmly. I made sure that clear indications were sent across that any misadventure by India would be replied with resolute force by Pakistan. It became a trial of who blinked first. India blinked. We decided to move our forces back. A change of heart took place in Indian leadership. PM Vajpayee decided to come to Pakistan for the SAARC Summit and also to meet me. This led to the famous Joint Declaration but unfortunate soon saw the demise of the BJP Government in India. Stalemate again. But this time the stalemate was fortunately short lived. The new Indian PM Manmohan Singh took a bold decision to meet me on the side lines of the UN General Assembly Session. Pakistan and India have finally ended in a rapprochement with CBMs and Composite Dialogue process. The New York joint Statement between me and PM Manmohan Singh finally is a quantum leap forward towards resolution of all disputes including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir. There is light visible at the end of the tunnel.
In the course of my five years at the helm of affairs in Pakistan, I have traveled widely all over the world and met all leaders of stature Many world leaders have come to Pakistan and interacted with me. Such top level interaction developed in me a sense of the geo-strategic realities of the word and various conflict regions. It also crystallized my views and perceptions of key world issues. I articulated one such thought to bring harmony into the disturbed world in the form of a “strategy of Enlightened Moderation”. This captured the imagination of the West in particular and was adopted by the Islamic World for Enlightened Moderation.
In the process I have successfully managed to bring Pakistan on the radar screens of the world and am continuously trying to improve its image. I have a vision for Pakistan. I am convinced that this Nation has all the resources, the potential and all the human capability to be transformed into a progressive, moderate, prosperous Islamic State. We only have put our act together. I also have an urge to contribute to the socio economic emancipation of the Muslim world and towards making the world at large a better place to live in for our future generations.
This is a brief overview of my life as I lived it and thoroughly enjoy performing creditably. I think I was cut for the Army but I did not know that there was so much more in store for me.