Musharraf’s In The Line of Fire: A Review
Weekly Pulse
September 29-October 5, 2006
What President Musharraf did not want to re-confirm at his joint press conference last week with President Bush is now confirmed by his memoir, In the Line of Fire, released worldwide this week. Just days before the press conference, he disclosed in CBS’s 60 Minutes that within hours after 9/11 US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age” if it did not cooperate with the United States in the war against terrorism.

Now his memoir provides full details about the controversial issue, as Mr Armitage has denied having made such a threat. What transpired during a couple of days after 9/11 for the Pakistani leadership is mentioned in great detail. According to Musharraf, even before President Bush uttered in his speech the phrase “You are either with us or against us,” Secretary of State General Colin Powell had told him the same during an urgent phone call on September 12.

Musharraf writes: “When I was back in Islamabad the next day (September 13), our director general of Inter Services Intelligence, who happened to be in Washington, told me on the phone about his meeting with Richard Armitage. In what has to be the most un-diplomatic statement ever made, Armitage added to what Colin Powell had said to me and told the director general not only that we had to decide whether we were with America or with the terrorists, but that if we chose the terrorists, then we should be prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age. This was a shockingly barefaced threat, but it was obvious that the United States had decided to hit back, and hit back hard. I made a dispassionate, military-style analysis of our options, weighing the pros and cons.”

He adds: “My decision was based on the well-being of my people and the best interests of my country—Pakistan always comes first…The question was: if we do not join them, can we confront them and withstand the onslaught? The answer was no, we could not, on three counts. First was our military weakness as compared with the strength of the United States… Second was our economic weakness…Third, and worst of all, was our social weakness

Fateful Decision

“I also analyzed our national interest. First, India had already tried to step in by offering its bases to the United States. If we did not join the United States, it would accept India’s offer. What would happen then? India would gain a golden opportunity with regard to Kashmir. Second, the security of our strategic assets would be jeopardized…Third, our economic infrastructure, built over Haifa century, would have been decimated. The ultimate question that confronted me was whether it was in our national interest to destroy ourselves for the Taliban. Were they worth committing suicide over? The answer was a resounding no.”

“On the other hand,” Musharraf continues, “the benefits of supporting the United States were many. First, we would be able to eliminate extremism from our society and flush out the foreign terrorists in our midst. We could not do this alone; we needed the technical and financial support of the United States to be able to find and defeat these terrorists. Second, even though being a frontline state fighting terrorism would deter foreign investment, there were certain obvious economic advantages. Third, after being an outcast nation following our nuclear tests, we would come to centre stage.”

While In the Line of Fire is a comprehensive account of President Musharraf’s life history as it relates to the history of Pakistan itself after Partition, the Six-Part and 32-Chapter book covers a whole gamut of subjects—which range from Pakistan’s role in the War on Terror and the challenge of religious extremism to the Kargil conflict and India-Pakistan peace process, to the A Q Khan nuclear proliferation network and killing of The Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, to the circumstances that led to the October 1999 coup and the future of democracy in Pakistan as well as a host of other important issues of domestic and international concern.

Controversial Account

His personal narrative about the threat of extremism and terrorism and Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts in association with the United States, the conflict in Kargil and the A Q Khan network as well as the justifications for the military coup of 1999 is so detailed and steadfast that it is likely to raise a lot of controversy and criticism. However, it his frank, fascinating and realistic narration of the circumstances making Pakistan Washington’s foremost ally in the war on terror that may win appreciation from the readership.

For instance, about the seven demands that US ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain brought to him on September 13, the President writes that some of them were contradictory and others were simply “ludicrous.” The latter refers to the US demand from Pakistan for providing “blanket over-flight and landing rights,” which Islamabad refused to accept and, instead, offered only a “narrow flight corridor that was far from any sensitive area.”

In fact, sections of the memoir narrating twists and turns in US-Pakistan relations from Afghan jihad to the fight against terrorism contain several critical references such as the rather sarcastic remark about the manner in which Washington abandoned Pakistan after the Soviet demise in Afghanistan: “I can hardly think of a better way to honour friends,” writes Musharraf.

The book, written in a lucid style, opens rather dramatically with an epilogue titled “Face to Face with Terror,” which begins with the two assassination attempts against him preceded by a number of his close encounters with death. In the first chapter, titled “Train to Pakistan,” we come across a poetic beginning about Partition times: “These were troubled times. These were momentous times. There was the light of freedom; there was the darkness of genocide. It was the dawn of hope; it was the twilight of empire. It was a tale of two countries in the making.”

Until Chapter 10, we are informed about the tragedy and trauma of Partition for Pakistan and the situation facing Musharraf’s migrating family (while he was still 4); his early education in Karachi and then Turkey as well as teenage romances, his college days leading to the PMA Academy in Kakul, how he came to join the commando SSG, his participation in the 1965 and 1971 wars, and the story of his lucky rise in the ladder of military hierarchy until he took over, rather surprisingly, as the Chief of Army Staff in August 1998.

Kargil Conflict

In Chapter 11, titled ‘Kargil Conflict,’ President Musharraf tries to break four myths; namely, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not consulted; that the military hierarchy was unaware, that military situation on ground was precarious and that’s why the PM rushed to Washington to get Pak army out of it; and, finally, that the conflict could have caused a nuclear war. In each case, his stand is substantiated with evidence. For instance, on the question whether the Prime Minister was on board, Musharraf cites at least three briefings given to the Prime Minister by the military High Command.

He puts the blame on India for amassing an armada of troops along with the employment of Indian Air Force as causal factors for worsening the conflict; and says that, from Pakistani military’s standpoint, still the situation was not that precarious to have pushed the civilian leadership to fly hurriedly to Washington, DC. As for the possibility that the conflict could have conflagrated into a nuclear war, he rejects it by arguing that by that time Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals were not in operation.

On Kargil, whatever the President may argue, the very fact that Prime Minister Sharif remains adamant that he was not consulted on the matter—and because so many other published accounts of Kargil depict a defeat for Pakistan in Kargil—means the issue is not yet closed. His tale on Kargil, therefore, is likely to generate a new round of claims and counter-claims.

Parts III and IV of the book are titled “The Hijacking Drama” and “Rebuilding the Nation,” and run through Chapters 12 to 19. The former is about the circumstances leading to the 1999 coup and General Musharraf’s proclaimed quest for starting a new “progressive and prosperous” chapter in Pakistan’s sordid history. Issues and ideas discussed in them have already been told frequently in his speeches.

What is interesting, though, is President Musharraf’s claim that as far as he was concerned, he wanted to have a working relationship with the Prime Minister, and that it was he who brought the situation to a head due to his reckless power ambitions. Such ambitions were reflected in, for instance, Prime Minister’s vengeful demands such as court-martialing The Friday Times editor, Najam Sethi. “In October 1999, the nation was fast headed toward economic and political collapse. Under these trying circumstances, I was working to shore up the prime minister and help him perform better. It was unfortunate that he distrusted my good intentions,” writes Musharraf.

Taliban Power

Turning to the war on terror, Chapter 21 is titled “Omar and Osama,” and, in it, Musharraf repeatedly underscores the fact that after gaining power in Afghanistan—even though with Pakistan’s help as well as a tacit approval of the United States—Taliban had become independent. Perhaps the most important section of the book is the never-told tale about a September 19, 1998 meeting of Pakistan’s director general ISI and Prince Turki Al Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence, with Mulla Omar in Kandahar. This meeting came in the wake of al Qaeda’s bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Writes the President: “The prince informed Mullah Omar about Osama bin Laden’s involvement in the bombing, and shared information about his plans, luckily unearthed and foiled, to blow up the U.S. consulate in Jeddah. He reminded Omar that three months earlier, in June 1998, the Taliban had given a firm commitment to Saudi Arabia, through the prince, that they would expel Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan and hand him over to the Saudis…

“Mullah Omar surprised both the prince and our director general by responding that he had made no promises to Saudi Arabia. He was effectively calling the prince a liar…He complained that the Saudi government should nave helped him at this critical juncture; instead, it was adding to the pressure on him over Osama…The prince had remained calm till this point. Now he lost his composure. He pointed an accusatory finger at Omar…

“Suddenly, Mullah Omar stood up and stalked out in fury. Omar returned a few minutes later his hair dripping with water, his shirt and sleeves drenched…The prince became even more annoyed, and accused Omar of insulting the Saudi people, Saudi religious scholars, and the royal family…Then he got up, gave the salutation wa salaam, and left.”

After narrating the interesting tale, Musharraf asks the question: “How do you negotiate with such a man? He was (and is still) caught in a time warp, detached from reality…After 9/111 was absolutely clear in my mind that the only way to avoid the wrath of the United States against Afghanistan and the Taliban was to somehow get Osama bin Laden and his followers out. We initiated a dialogue immediately, realizing fully that the window of opportunity was very small….{But} negotiating with Mullah Omar was more difficult than one can imagine. It was like banging one’s head against a wall. We have two entirely opposite worldviews. Whereas I believe that one must exhaust every avenue to avoid war and the death and destruction it entails, Omar thinks that death and destruction are inconsequential details in a just war.”

Terrorist Fallout

Chapter 22 is titled “The War Comes to Pakistan,” which narrates a number of terrorist incidents, especially those occurring in the country in 2002, and how Pakistan’s intelligence and investigation agencies, with foreign help, were able to capture the perpetrators of these acts. The tragic tale of Daniel Pearl’s murder and the involvement of Omar Sheikh are also mentioned, with a profile of the latter. The next Chapter describes Pakistan’s counter-terror successes, including the arrest of over 672 al-Qaeda terrorists, especially leading figures such as Abu-Zubeida and Khalid Shiekh Mohammad, who master-minded or were involved in major terrorist acts, including 9/11, Pearl’s murder and two assassination attempts on the President. Some 369 of these terrorists have been handed over to the United States.

Yet, according to Musharraf, it is “disappointing that despite our deep commitment and immense sacrifices, some people continue to tell tendentious stories casting aspersions on our counter-terrorism operations and on the contributions we have made. We have lost more men than any other country—and we fight on.”

As for the accusation regarding terrorist infiltration into Afghanistan from Pakistan’s border areas, he writes: “The reality is that most of the terrorist activity in Afghanistan is indigenous, even though some groups from Pakistan also sneak across. We need to cooperate with each other to fight this scourge, instead of getting involved in the blame game and weakening our common cause.”

Just as Musharraf tries to put the terrorist problem at the Afghan frontier in a proper perspective, he does the same with regard to Kashmir, by narrating the whole issue in its actual historical framework: that it was the decades-long denial of freedom rights to Kashmiri people by India that the situation assumed a militaristic dimension. In the succeeding chapters, the path to peace is mentioned in detail from the failure of the Agra Summit to the start and continuation of the Composite Dialogue. Musharraf also highlights his “out-of-box” vision for Kashmir revolving around newer notions such as identification of zones of conflict, demilitarisation, self-governance and join management of the selected zones.

These are discussed in the chapter on ‘International Diplomacy,’ which also explains why Pakistan took another “realistic” step of reaching out to Israel last year. He clearly mentions that Pakistan now recognises the Jewish entity de facto but also simultaneously aspires for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem. Musharraf also takes pride in the fact that his Enlightened Moderation strategy has been adopted as a goal by the entire Muslim world at the Islamic Summit at Mecca in December 2005.

The concluding chapters mention Pakistan’s social sector reforms, reforms regarding the emancipation of women, political steps for democratisation, and the economic progress made by Pakistan under his rule. They also narrate how the manhunt that began in 2002 has expanded over time, tightening the noose around terrorists and chasing al-Qaeda in the mountains. In this context, the successes achieved thus far under the Army Operation in South and North Waziristan Agencies are mentioned—along with important disclosures such as the limited intelligence and technical help that the Special Services Task Force has obtained from the United States.

Disappointing Note

Each such narration, however, ends with a disappointing note: “For twenty-six years now on our western borders, and for sixteen years to our east in Kashmir, we have been in turmoil. A culture of militancy, weapons, and drugs now flourishes in Pakistan. A deadly al Qaeda terrorist network entrenched itself in our major cities and the mountains of our tribal agencies on our western border with Afghanistan. A culture of targeted killing, explosives, car bombs, and suicide attacks took root. The attempts on my life and that of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz were part of this story.

“This is what Pakistan has gone through in the last twenty-six years and what still causes us suffering, albeit somewhat less after our many successes against the terrorists. I shudder to think what the situation would have been like if we had not decided to take action when we did. What hurts us, in addition, is the lack of understanding from some in the West of our suffering, and of Pakistan’s contribution.”

Despite that, Musharraf continues in a Chapter titled “The Symbiosis of Terrorism and Religion, “Our major successes in smashing al Qaeda’s Pakistani network are good start toward reclaiming Pakistan—but the extremists are far from defeated. We must continue to confront them and to re-harmonize Pakistan and its emotionally wounded society.”

However, talking about the roots of terrorism, he asks the following question: “What motivates the extremists and terrorists? I believe it is their revulsion at their sheer pathos of the Muslim condition: the political injustices, societal deprivation, and alienation that have reduced many Muslims to marginalization and exploitation…The bombers involved in London on 7/7 were not politically deprived, uneducated, or poor. Quite clearly, their motivation came from the socioeconomic deprivation of their community.”

The book ends by a prologue titled “Reflections,” in which Musharraf looks back at his personal accomplishments and the achievements of his country. Part of it is about the qualities of leadership, the lessons that he has personally learned; and part of it is about what Pakistan actually stands for and what it should become in the future. Resoluteness, humbleness and contentment are some of the elements of leadership that Musharraf reflects upon, while his vision for Pakistan, as variously pointed out by him during the last seven years, is that of a progressive, moderate, democratic Islamic Republic.

Interesting Reading

The 352-page memoir published by Simon and Schuster, indeed, makes an interesting reading. Its fictional start is overtime transformed into a serious political narrative. It seems like a novel in the beginning, but as we move on, the book becomes a serious academic work.

There are minor factual errors, however. For instance, while stressing the fact that the Taliban in power were not under Pakistani influence, the President talks about a violent incident in Kabul in which the Pakistani ambassador and other staff of the embassy were beaten up. The fact is that the incident did not occur under the Taliban, but rather took place under the Rabbani regime, when, in response to the Taliban’s capture of heart in September 1995, the thugs of Ahmad Shah Massoud attacked the Pakistani embassy in Kabul.

Another rather serious editing error is that the description about the book on the back flap gives one figure about the arrest of al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, while the figure inside the text is different. Also the yearly date of the Islamic Summit in Malaysia is wrongly mentioned as 2004. The actual year was 2003. However, given the fact that volumes such as the present one are about happenings of today or very recent past, it is always possible to have such errors of judgment or factual details.