BY A Khokar,
Ex- President General Pervez Musharraf was invited by India today Group for a Dinner key note address: ‘The Challenges of Change’ at the India Today Conclave held at Taj Palace Hotel, In New Delhi on Saturday, 7 March 2009.
Following is the Introduction speech by India Today Group Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, Aroon Purie.
Video Link Reception
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please join me in welcoming General Pervez Musharraf, former President of Pakistan. At this particular moment of time, when India and Pakistan relations are probably the worst they have ever been, Delhi, to use a military term, is probably “hostile terrain” for you. But you have still ventured to come. I am not surprised given your commando training and its motto: Who dares win.
After the Lahore attacks on Sri Lankan players there were apparently suggestions that you shouldn’t visit India for security reasons. But as you told us when you landed in Delhi yesterday: “That would have been a plus for terrorists.”
And when I told you the rumour mills in Delhi were churning out that you were not coming. You said to me: “I always meet my commitments.” For coming to India at this critical juncture and being with here with us tonight, sir, I salute you.
General Musharraf, starting from the train journey that took you from Delhi to Karachi your life has been extraordinary by any standards. Born into a middle class family and living in an elitist, feudalist society you have made it to the top through sheer dint of your merit and guts.
Running Pakistan is probably the most challenging job in the world. You were Pakistan’s president for 8 years, concurrently holding the post of Army Chief of Staff for most of these years.
You have said in your book that you had nine lives and you seemed to have lived them to the full. As head of state you weathered severe political storms, guided your country through some of the most turbulent and traumatic times, braved intense criticism and opposition before voluntarily relinquishing your post as President last year.
Besides all this, you’ve survived three direct assassination attempts. You were lucky not to get onto plane that carried President Zia ul Haq to his death. You came close to a fiery end when Nawaz Sharif denied permission to your flight from Colombo to land after dismissing you as Chief of Army staff.
This is your first visit to India after you left office and I thank you for giving us the honour of hosting it. Five years ago in 2004 when you were Pakistan’s undisputed leader you had conferred on us a similar privilege by addressing the 2004 India Today Conclave live via satellite from Islamabad.
You charmed us all with your gift of communication, your candour and if I may adapt a military phrase, your ability to shoot from your lip and give it back as good as you got.
You also gave some advice to our film star Aishwarya Rai who was in the audience not to act in war movies which showed Pakistan soldiers in a poor light.
General Musharraf, you are so well known in India that I was wondering how best to introduce you to our audience tonight. So to prepare for it I asked our librarian to send me all the cover stories that we had done on you.
I discovered, sir, that you have set a rare record for being the only foreign leader who has appeared as many as 16 times on our cover in just 10 years – a feat not even your friend, former US President George Bush, could achieve despite signing a landmark nuclear deal with India apart from turning the world upside down.
So I am going to give you and, of course, the audience a little slideshow and to read out the cover headlines of India Today that in many ways chronicle your tumultuous 10 year reign at the helm of Pakistan. Because we are India Today, the covers are mainly in the context of your relationship with India. You may not like what you see. But as they say in both our countries: ‘Gustaakhi Maaf’.
In October 1999, when you came to power by ousting your then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup or what you called a ‘counter coup’, our title said it all: Pakistan: Back to the Gun.
Within 6 months of your take over, the Pakistan economy tottered and domestic discontent became widespread. Our cover of April 10, 2000 said: General in Trouble.
Then in the Summer of 2001, despite being the architect of the Kargil war, you audaciously proposed to the then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee that India and Pakistan resume the stalled peace dialogue. In the run up to the Agra Summit we had three covers:
Our June 4, 2001 cover reflected the widespread cynicism: “What can they talk?”
When it became clear that you had wanted to make Kashmir the central issue at the Agra Summit our July 16, 2001 headline was: Mission Kashmir.
Just prior to the Agra Summit, we decided to do a ground report on the state of Pakistan and came back disillusioned. The cover title of our July 23, 2001 issue: The Lost Nation.
You remained optimistic though about your country’s future and the outcome of the Agra Summit. In your first interview to INDIA TODAY, in this issue, you said: “We have never been closer to permanent peace as now”.
But the Agra Summit ended with the peace process being further away than it ever was. We explained why in our issue of July 30, 2001: The Inside Story of Why the Agra Summit failed and What Next.
Two months later 9/11 happened and it was a day that changed the world. US Secretary of State Colin Powell called you up and said famously: “You are either with us or against us.” You made your choice. Our October 1, 2001 issue called you: “America’s General.”
By December 2001, terrorists had struck Parliament and India was poised to do a retaliatory military strike against Pakistan.
In a bid to avert war with India you announced a major clampdown on extremist organizations and curbs on radical Islam. Our cover headline of January 14, 2002 said: General in a Jam. Will he deliver?
We then sent our editorial team to investigate your promises and our cover title of 28 January 2002 asked: “Can Musharraf Change Pakistan?” Our conclusion was pessimistic.
By May, the Kalachuk massacre in Jammu brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war again. We believed you made a major miscalculation in thinking your alliance with the US meant that you could rattle your saber in Kashmir. Our cover of June 17,2002: Pervez Musharraf: On Thin Ice.
After a prolonged stalemate, two years later, you and Prime Minister Vajpayee made a high stake gamble for peace at the SAARC summit in Islamabad. Our cover headline of January 19, 2004 applauded by calling you both: Bravehearts.
Nine months later and a deadly revival of infiltration and terror in Kashmir saw us bring out a cover on September 13, 2004: General Mischief.
With the Manmohan Singh government in the saddle when you made your second official visit to India, instead of army regalia, you chose suits and offered a way out of Kashmir. Our cover of May 2,2005 about your new avatar, asked: The General’s Changing Face: Is it For Real?
Instead of others writing about your history you brought out your memoirs titled ‘In the Line of Fire’ which among other things gave your own controversial account of the Kargil war. Our cover story of October 9, 2006: Musharraf’s memoirs: Myth and Reality.
By 2007, with your popularity plummeting in Pakistan and your arch rivals Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif announcing their return from exile our cover headline of our September 17, 2007 we raised the question: Time Up?
As the year progressed, the situation had worsened as your government made a series of mistakes including the storming of the Lal Masjid, the sacking of the higher judiciary and the declaration of an emergency. Even though you agreed to step down as Army chief, the dispute over your election as President remained. For us the writing was on the wall and our November 19, 2007 said: Why He Will Not Last.
Our assessment, if I may say so, was bang on. A month later, Benazir Bhutto was tragically assassinated and your credibility nosedived. The lawyers’ agitation saw popular discontent express itself in Pakistan like never before.
Then the February 2008 elections saw your rivals Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif win more seats than the King’s party PMLQ. By August 20, to your credit you made a dignified exit and stepped down from the Presidency rather than precipitate a national crisis.
Now here you are, not just a survivor but someone who could still be the force to reckon with in Pakistan’s fluid and turbulent politics.
You come to India, sir, at a crucial crossroads of history in the sub-continent, when events in Pakistan are again spinning out of control with politics in a mess, violence increasing and the army turning restive again. India is watching these developments with grave concern.
Our two countries not only have a shared past but our present is intertwined and our future dependent on how we conduct relations with each other.
We are all eager to know what you think of the situation and how to address this major Challenge of Change. May I now invite you to deliver the concluding keynote address.
Source: India Today