Pervez Dispenser

Musharraf lets loose in Baltimore.


By Michael Schaffer, The New Republic

Some simple rules of thumb for the foreign ex-dictator out to make a mint on the U.S. lecture circuit: Get yourself included in a speakers’ series that features non-controversial names like Laura Bush and Jean-Michel Cousteau. Promise your “august audience” a “frank exchange.” Maybe drop the names of one or two revered American leaders who are your close friends. And perhaps it is best not to admit that you wish you still had the power to “sort out” an impolite member of the audience.

That last nugget seemed to trip up Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani president, when he brought his coast-to-coast road show to Baltimore one recent evening. Musharraf was methodically explaining America’s pre–September 11 foreign policy failures to a crowd of about 2,000 well-heeled locals when unintelligible catcalls started ricocheting through the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. At first, Musharraf ignored the shouts, but the refrain, in a heavy South Asian accent, eventually grew clearer: “Dictator!”

For many speakers, responding to this sort of interruption might involve that most basic maneuver of war and politics: seizing the high ground. The audience, after all, had paid between $265 and $395 for a series of lectures from prominent people, not taunts from anonymous hecklers. A few words about civility and politeness and respect might have gone a long way–especially for a guy determined to recast himself as a statesman. Musharraf, alas, rose to the bait.

“Yes, I was,” Musharraf shot back at the man who called him a dictator. “I wish you were there so I could have handled you also.” After some murmuring, things settled back down, but the distractions started up again a few minutes later. Eventually, as talk turned to Pakistan’s relations with India, the general decided to engage again. “Maybe the gentleman who’s talking belongs to India,” he said of the Joe Wilson figure in the upper balcony.

This was apparently too much for the gentleman, who shouted back that he was in fact from Baluchistan, the perpetually restive southwestern province that borders Afghanistan and Iran. “In Baluchistan, people like you who want to get away from Pakistan need to be sorted out,” Musharraf thundered. “That is what I did. . . .  If you were there, you would have been sorted out by me. He thinks I’m a dictator. I’m a dictator for people like you!” Tonight, at least, the line worked: The crowd applauded as the heckler was silenced.

As it happens, this sort of exchange is unlikely to affect Musharraf’s stateside reputation, for good or ill. Neither is the rest of his 90-minute chat, which hits such newsworthy subjects as the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal (strong), the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden (unknown), and whether Washington should keep its troops in Afghanistan (absolutely). Though the traveling ex-president is holding forth on the year’s biggest foreign policy debate, the press hasn’t exactly hailed him as a visiting oracle. A South Dakota lecture made the local daily, but the Baltimore one didn’t.

Musharraf surely knows his way around the American media. When he published his autobiography, he sipped tea with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” And, since his lectures need to justify a speaking fee that’s reportedly in the six figures, it’d be reasonable enough for organizers to cast him as some latter-day version of the 1946 Winston Churchill, a deposed leader barnstorming the back-roads of his old ally, stiffening spines in the face of a new challenge.

But the lectures’ real purpose, other than the obvious remunerative one, doesn’t involve enlightening the good people of St. Louis or Sarasota who’ve forked out for his speeches. It’s aimed at the folks back home in Pakistan, where his tour gets energetic media attention. Of course, the average person in Multan or Gujranwala doesn’t know Augustana College in Sioux Falls (October 2) from the World Affairs Council of Houston (October 10). That’s just the point: From a distance, the appearances don’t look like a has-been cashing in on the lecture circuit. They look like examples of America’s deep and abiding respect for the former president.

This image is no small thing. In Islamabad, the opposition Pakistan Muslim League wants Musharraf tried for treason, which carries the death penalty. But, as the old cliché has it, Pakistani politics revolves around the three As–America, Allah, and the Army. So publicizing the news that Americans pay $100,000 a pop to listen to the ex-president serves as a significant deterrent: The prospect of bien-pensant lecture attendees in Pittsburgh and Providence implies that the first A still has Musharraf’s back. (As for the second A, Musharraf also got coverage for a recent visit with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; the king reportedly promised to lobby against a trial, too.)

Musharraf is hardly the first ex-leader to pad his income via a trip around another nation’s lecture circuit–Bill Clinton has done quite nicely, as did Ronald Reagan. And the London resident is not even the first Pakistani exile to use friendly Americans as a prop for the domestic market–something the late Benazir Bhutto, with her cadre of Harvard classmates, did exceedingly well. (Like Bhutto, Musharraf has also made less-remunerative stops at insidery haunts on Capitol Hill and think tanks.)

But, before they conclude that Americans are entirely reverential toward their ex-leader, the pols back home might want to take a look at one of the events. In Baltimore, even the Baluch nationalists, numbering fewer than ten, didn’t look like the sort of angry mob worthy of a major figure. Outside the hall, there were reminders about an upcoming talk by Mia Farrow. A display table touted the new criminal-justice program at Stevenson University, a sponsor of the event. Stevenson marketing people passed out mints bearing the school’s URL and the slogan “Greenlight Your Career.” It was a strangely fitting message for the evening. After all, when your military dictatorship doesn’t pan out, there’s always speechmaking in Baltimore.



Filed under Democracy, Pakistan

14 responses to “Pervez Dispenser

  1. united4justice

    Musharraf has deceived his nation and the world with the false claim that he is the only one who can save the world from few thousand talibans who don’t know much about rest of the world at all.

    His deception and lies like George Bush deceptive and deadly policies have taken the world on the verge of destruction with extra judicial killings, curbs on media, abrogation of constitution, illegal abduction of people for dollars including innocent women and children (like in Aafia Siddiqi case), illegal sacking of judges, selling the sovereignty of the country by putting a country into an unjustified war (based on 9-11 deception by Bush administration) and the list goes on.

    The people of USA needs to ask their government about the legitimacy of this war which is like Iraq war based on lies and tell them to stop supporting the dictators and plunderers .

    Still there is no justice provided to 9-11 victims , no serious independent investigation was conducted and the relatives of victims are still demanding independent inquiry for an incident which many think is an inside job by neo-cons and allies.

  2. Rashid

    Despite all of Pervaz Musharraf’s shortcomings he does deserve a credit for one great service to Islam and Muslim Ummah. It may becomes reason for his salvation and qualification to stand next to Messengers of Allah SWT and Sahaba of Rasul Allah SAWS on Day of Judgment.
    Pervez Musharraf in his speech on January 12, 2002 announced/ signed an executive order according to which if anyone who calls a Reciter of Kalma-Shahada (i.e. a Muslim) as a Kafir (non-Muslim) that person will be punishable under Pakistan Penal Code.
    As head of state he acknowledged that Mullas has converted many times more Muslims into Kafir than other way.
    I think what Musharraf did for Muslim Ummah no one comes close.
    We must give him credit for this.

  3. Anwar

    Rashid, For his service to Islam and Ummah, Musharaf deserves to be in paradise and may Allah forgive him and award him. But for what he did to the country he deserves to be put on trial and condemned to hell….

  4. yasserlatifhamdani

    As with Imran Khan who has disappointed us, many of us were filled with hope and optimism vis a vis Musharraf as well.. we should’ve known better… but we thought that we had a dictator to undo what the Islamist dictator had done in the 1980s.

    He failed, as he was destined to. 2006 onwards he undid any good that he might have done… and so we drove him out. 2007 was unbearable and by 2008 we were dancing in front of TV screens when he decided to quit.

    He did some things right but most things wrong.

    The right steps:

    1. Restoration of the joint electorate…which had been undone by General Zia in 1978.

    2. Considerable relaxation in imposed social conservatism.

    3. Protection of religious minorities and their promotion on a national level.

    4. 33% reservation for women in the national assembly in addition to general seats.

    5. Peace and better ties with India.

    6. Ofcourse the media that he opened up and which ultimately became his biggest foe.

    The wrong steps:

    1. Hobnobbed with the Mullahs for 17th Amendment.

    2. Rigged 2002 elections to get MMA elected.

    3. 17th Amendment

    4. Unnecessary reliance on the Chaudhries and old feudal politicos of Punjab.

    5. Being stubborn about keeping BB and NS out.

    6. Mishandling of Balochistan.

    7. Late action on Lal Masjid…

    8. The unnecessary Chief Justice crisis.

    9. Presidential election of 2007.

    10. Referendum of 2002

    11. Trying to clamp down media…

    12. Emergency of 2007.

  5. yasserlatifhamdani

    Also… women’s protection bill was a right step… and the retreat on Blasphemy law and the religion on passport issue were two wrong steps… so it is 7 right steps to 14 wrong steps…. one step forward two steps backwards…. the story of Tinpot Musharraf.

  6. Junaid

    Supporting Musharraf because he did good things and bad things is the same as supporting Taliban because they good things and bad things.

    It is very unfortunate to see intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy from members of PakTeaHouse.

  7. bonobashi


    Relax; don’t go overboard.

    The last line wasn’t really necessary 🙂
    Chill; we all have our own ways of expressing things.

  8. Majumdar

    Yasser Pai,

    Late action on Lal Masjid…

    Your Islamist friends wud qualify the above statement by removing the word “late”. And there seems to be some merit in their argument. There were hardly any suicide bombings in Pak before the Lal Masjid fiasco, quite a few since then.


    PS: Any reference to the LM epi invariably reminds me of the infamous “White Phosphorus” debates on another forum.

  9. YLH

    Junaid mian,

    I am not sure what you are smoking but I am not sure where you got the idea that I was justifying supporting him… On the contrary I am pointing out why we were wrong in supporting him ever – and I atleast accept that I was completely wrong in supporting him unconditionally from 1999-2002.

    I gave 7 good steps and 14 wrong steps…. to point out why supporting him was such a mistake on our part. One step forward two steps backwards…

    I am not sure what good the Taliban did btw … though that is not the issue here.

  10. Greywolf


    Lal Masjid could have been and should have been sorted out in early January 2007 when the Burqah-clad terrorists took over the Children’s Library… Instead the government allowed the issue to linger on callously….

    Similarly when Ghazi started whining on the fourth day of the siege – after his brother was caught in a Burqah- and begging for a safe passage… the state should have given him safe passage and then caught him.

    To date no evidence- as far as I know- has been presented about the fiasco that proves the claims of indiscriminate slaughter and massacre- if there is I would like to see it… there aren’t even any claimants… meanwhile every anchor who was baying for the blood of Lal Masjid militants pre-operation became the biggest champions of Lal Masjid …

    And while circumstantially it does look like suicide bombing increased after Lal Masjid … is there really a genuine link?? There are elements which are now using the Lal Masjid again … I would like to know why Abdul Aziz is out on bail after waging war against Pakistan? The answer is clear: elements in our security establishment want him out.

    It is a case of a deliberate post hoc ergo propter hoc.

  11. YLH

    YLH= Greywolf

    Ofcourse if the massacre of innocents did happen then we must condemn it…

    We should have exhausted all possible avenues of surrender before the operation.

    I am not sure why other tactics like cutting off utilities etc were not tried… in retrospect the army should have waited for another two weeks and the whole thing would have ended much more peacefully.

  12. Bloody Civilian

    … we’ve still got it very wrong. how dare the COAS not come to receive or invite the interior minister inside the GHQ when the latter went there in the aftermath of the terrorist attack? what possible reason did the PM or president have not to go there instead of the int minister? what possible excuse for not attending the funerals and honouring the soldiers and officers killed?

    it’s still a very unhealthy situation/’relationship’.

  13. Mehmud Sheheryar

    One should be grateful to Musharaf for several things he did, mostly the way he pulled the country out of the economic quagmire in which the leaders of his critics cited above had pushed it. There are a lot of things I can narrate about them but space limitations forbid me. If helives on a lecture circuit it should not bother his opponents as, it at least is legitimate and is not out of
    the Motorway projects.

  14. Anwar Ahmed

    Musharaf may have done some good work but displayed lack of will to leave a great legacy ,of which he had an oppotunity,The day he went back on the issue of display of religion in Pasport I lost all hope.Then he had such a great opportunity of cleaning up Madrassa problem and “Fundos”. Kala bagh dam would have been another feather in his cap. It is painful to think as to why our leaders /userpers do not choose an upword path. Anwar