Wilson Chowdhry and Haroon Yousaf at APML's Head Office.
Wilson takes notes while Musharraf delivers his speech.
At an invitation only event at the APML offices in London, held on Wednesday 25th May 2011, I found myself seated before the former military dictator and arguably Pakistan's most ostensibly progressive leader for some time, General Pervais Musharraf.
Musharraf started his presentation by informing visitors that his speech was not planned and was to be an informal address due request for some comment in relation to recent high profile incidents, including the assassination of Bin Ladin and the subsequent bombing in Peshawar and Naval fleet attack.
Musharraf spoke well and clearly and his opening comment described the assassination of Bin Ladin as a positive result of a long hard fought campaign to remove a mass murderer. Musharraf spoke of the despicable nature of Bin Ladin's terrorist attacks, and stating the world was a better place for his death. Musharraf also reiterated the need for cooperation between America and other allies. He condemned the infringement of the sovereignty of Pakistan and was concerned that the programmed assassination of Bin Ladin took place without the authority of Pakistan's Government and in a clandestine manner.
In a frank description of the incident Musharraf postulated that a trust and authority deficit caused the operational secrecy and that during his regime, his standing with Western Government's would not have resulted in a similar breach. This is a theory I am willing to give some credence to considering the high esteem he was held in by the West and the collapse into chaos since the new government has taken over. Moreover, David Cameron's "one foot in both camps" comment is contemporaneous and speaks of a more insidious turn of events.
Whilst talking about the perceived duplicity of the Pakistani Government in relation to Bin Ladin's residing near the Islamabad Capital, his response was rather interesting. He described the 9/11 terrorist attack in which America was helpless against locating the terrorists that were within their realm. Their is some truth in this statement but since the incident counter-terrorism efforts have been ramped up significantly and no repeat has occurred. Moreover Pakistan has been fighting the Taliban for some while and the mysterious activity such as 18ft high walls, a resident permanently stationed within the confines of his home and the daily mass burning of confidential literature should have alerted the special forces. This said however, it would have taken some time for reports to come through and if it is correct that Bin Ladin had been living at his home for over 5 years (partly during Musharraf's reign), I would trust Musharraf's claims that he was not aware of the location of Bin Ladin - it took the American's 5 Years and they have very acute technology.
Speaking of acute technology, Musharraf described the lack of security at Pakistan's borders and public and Government areas was an embarrassment. He described some of the obstacles to security as a need for better CCTV in high risk public areas with improved sight lines. He spoke of the difficulty in preventing suicide bombers as they are hard to trace and nigh on impossible to stop once in position. He called for better engagement with communities who are the necessary eyes and ears for the authorities. To gain community trust the authorities would need to be more approachable and accountable.
Musharraf spoke of the need for improved lookout towers intersecting walls and for these towers to be manned along our borders. He also described the need for better discipline to prevent sleep deprivation and associated concerns. Musharraf stated that a full review of existing systems was required and that quick reaction teams were required for early response. Without proper mapping of critical areas Musharraf believed the safety and sovereignty concerns Pakistan faces would continue. A repeat of the trust deficit concerns was spoken of as he described America's ability to avoid trace via Pakistan's low and high range radar. The USA's stealth equipment was one of the reasons that the Pakistan's authorities were not aware of
the Bin Ladin raid until it had been completed. Musharraf said the only counter for this would be a strong leader in whom trust could be placed.
Musharraf condemned the 223 drones attacks that have taken place in Pakistan.
The rest of the meeting was focused on party matters, Wilson was gearing up to question Musharraf on the increased abuse of the blasphemy laws in recent years, and what actions he would take to curb the abuse. Only 3 questions, however, were permitted and Wilson was overlooked. Musharraf had declared that he was standing in the elections not for himself, but to bring and end to the two party politics that had stifled democratic growth. Although the BPCA may not agree 100% with his statement, we would endorse political diversity in Pakistan.
We are in the process of organising a private audience with Musharraf, in which it will be an aim to secure a minority manifesto from his political party "All Pakistan Muslim League". During this audience we will possibly be permitted an additional 4 senior figures from the Pakistani Christian community. If you would like to join us email Wilson details of who you are and why you would like to join us and we will respond. We have approached other party leaders including Imran Khan's PTI for a similar audience and will keep you informed.