“I Want a True Democracy”
Pakistan’s military leader General Pervez Musharraf speaks to TIME in this expanded online interview on 6th December 1999.
Saeed Khan–AFP for TIME
General Pervez Musharraf says he wants “a true democracy at the grassroots level.”
Since he overthrew Pakistan’s civilian government Oct. 12, General Pervez Musharraf has had little time to meet the press. But the soft-spoken military ruler sat down with TIME New Delhi bureau chief Michael Fathers and Islamabad correspondent Hannah Bloch Nov. 24. In a 40-minute interview at deposed PM Nawaz Sharif’s former residence in Islamabad, Musharraf discussed his vision for Pakistan’s future. (See TIME’s online interviews with Sharif and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh.)
TIME: Why are you prosecuting Sharif for air piracy rather than corruption?
Musharraf: This case matured earlier, the accountability courts are still being formed. These are legal issues which are taking their normal course. I am not interfering at all. Nothing is hidden. If there are some people who start to sympathize with him, let it happen.
TIME: If he receives the death penalty, would you implement it?
Musharraf: I haven’t really thought about it. Let the legal process take its normal course without any interference whatsoever on my part. I will have to think about it at that time. I would like to say that I am not at all vindictive toward him.
TIME: Sharif says he has suffered “mental torture” in custody.
Musharraf: Let me say that this is all nonsense. If he thinks he is under mental torture, he must be feeling very guilty about whatever he has done. That is why he is under “mental torture.” Nobody else is doing it to him. What more fundamental rights does he want? He is living quite comfortably. The trial is open. The press is there.
TIME: You ended 14 years of democracy. What will you put in its place?
Musharraf: I would like to move toward the substance of democracy and away from the sham democracy we have had in Pakistan. I want a really true democracy at the grassroots level where people can govern themselves and run their own health programs and road construction. I intend to devolve power from the center to the provinces and from the provinces to the districts. Members of the National Assembly were doling out uncontrolled funds and controlling people’s destinies at their whims and wishes. I’ll change that. The electoral system needs to be reformed so that the right people come in to the assemblies and the wrong people, those who are not honest and dedicated to the people, are eliminated. Our political culture can only change when new clean leaders emerge from the grassroots.
TIME: And amend the constitution?
Musharraf: I haven’t decided as yet. It depends on whether it would benefit Pakistan. Any consideration of the constitution and whether changes are necessary will be done on the recommendations of a constitutional committee. Change will not come about arbitrarily.
TIME: Will the armed forces have a permanent role in government?
Musharraf: If you are asking my personal view, the armed forces have always played a role because they are a stabilizing factor. They are the only stable institution in Pakistan. My priority, as I have said, is devolution of power. First of all, let’s stabilize the democratic institutions in the country. That is my first priority.
TIME: How long will your honeymoon last? Will you have a referendum?
Musharraf: I have not set a deadline but I do have certain objectives to be achieved. I cannot really give any time limits because I do not know how much time it will take. It’s the people of Pakistan on whom I am banking. I’m pretty sure that when we are performing, when we are delivering, when there is better governance, when there is justice for the poor, economic advancement, provincial harmony–the people will see and the honeymoon will continue.
TIME: What about securing legitimacy for Pakistan?
Musharraf: There are cases already in the Supreme Court. The Pakistan Muslim League [Sharif’s party] has moved a case against the actions of October 12. Let this case be decided by the Supreme Court. Let the judiciary make a decision. But no, I am not considering a referendum at the moment.
TIME: What role should Islam have in Pakistan?
Musharraf: This is an Islamic republic and that has to be clear. My view is of a tolerant Islam, Islam in the true sense, and not an Islam which is manipulated for political gains. Islam is a “deen,” a way of life. I am a believer in taking Islam in its real, progressive form–a much broader futuristic view rather than a dogmatic and retrogressive one.
TIME: In New Delhi you are personally held responsible for last summer’s war with India over Kargil in Kashmir. How do you hope to normalize relations with India?
Musharraf: I was chief of army staff, so I take full responsibility for whatever my army does or does not do. However, Kargil has to be seen in the total perspective of Kashmir and such actions and far-reaching decisions are not taken by one man alone. Everyone was on board, including the prime minister who was very much aware of the whole package. As far as my attitude toward India is concerned, I’ve been very realistic. I don’t believe in distorting views for the sake of diplomacy. Kashmir is the core issue. Now if anyone thinks it is not, I really don’t know how to convince them otherwise. We have fought wars over Kashmir and every day there is an exchange of fire along the Line of Control. I surely believe there has to be peace in the region and we have to resolve all our issues with India. There is no doubt in my mind. That is the only way this region can progress economically. It’s the poorest region in the world. But can we do anything without progress on Kashmir? No, we can’t, it’s just not realistic. Kashmir has to be addressed because this is the issue that is hampering any kind of agreement between the two countries.
TIME: Given the impasse of the past 52 years, is a new approach necessary?
Musharraf: If you mean put Kashmir aside, how can you do that? We are killing each other on the Line of Control. People are dying in Kashmir and I go happy and smiling and grinning and meet all the Indian leaders? We are talking something and thinking something else in our hearts. So are they. I’m not like that. I can’t do that. If there is some tension in my heart, it is on my face. I’m not a believer in these things.
TIME: The U.S. is the only major power that has not come out strongly against the military takeover. Will Pakistan respond positively to American concerns in the region?
Musharraf: I am grateful to President Clinton and the United States for the very realistic stand they have taken, for their understanding of the situation in Pakistan. On the nuclear issue and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty my views are quite clear. I would surely consider signing the CTBT. But first we need to develop a national consensus. There has not been one before.
TIME: How can you help resolve the Osama bin Laden problem?
Musharraf: Prudence demands this must be resolved, and if I can play a role in resolving this issue, I would surely like to. But a word of caution: one shouldn’t think Pakistan has total control over the Afghans and the Afghan government and that we dictate terms or we can influence them to any great extent. They are very independent-minded people and they take their own decisions. Yes, we have been interacting with them. We could use our good offices to bring about some solution to the problem, and I will do that to the best of my ability.
TIME: What if Clinton bypasses Pakistan on his planned South Asia visit next year because you haven’t restored democracy?
Musharraf: I feel that by coming here, the president of the United States will have a positive impact. His visit will affect the whole region. Sidelining Pakistan would be counterproductive. There would be a gap in his understanding. The people of Pakistan would be terribly disappointed, and his absence will give leverage to the extremists here. This would generate more support for the extremists, so it would really be counterproductive. I would really be disappointed.