Key U.S. ally and peace advocate or treasonous military dictator? People's opinions on Pakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf
But good or bad, Musharraf's reputation didn't come up for the most part during his lecture last night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, save for a small pre-lecture protest arising from allegations that he violated human rights.
In fact, for a left-swinging city like Portland, the military leader infamous for his 2007 arrest of Supreme Court judges in his country and the suspension of Pakistan's Constitution seemed rather well-received. Musharraf drew laughs with his quips, at times taking a self-deprecating turn, and was interrupted by applause at least a dozen times as he took his turn in the World Affairs Council of Oregon's International Speaker Series.
Musharraf spoke on the "genesis" of terrorism by breaking the recent history of terrorism in Afghanistan down into three time periods.
: "The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and we launched a war against the Soviet Union, and we called this a jihad," he said. "We attracted
mujahideen, attracted them and armed them. We also trained the Taliban... We encouraged, we supported, we backed religious militancy in Afghanistan."
: He called this a "period of disaster" with the U.S."short-sightedly" abandoning its place in Afghanistan. He listed three
consequences: 25-30,000 mujahideen holing up in Afghanistan, armed and knowing nothing but how to fight; Al Qaeda forming; and the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan.
: Musharraf claims the Taliban and Al Qaeda were defeated and dispersed, but that the Pashtun, Afghanistan's main ethnic group, were
alienated, paving the way for a resurgence in Taliban forces.
Musharraf's summary so far: Pakistan supported the U.S. and in return was put in the center of religious militancy, wedged between Kashmir and Afghanistan.
He then made a good point about the Taliban's structure: "it is not a monolith", meaning the U.S.'s emphasis on taking out the organization's key players (likely a reference to the capture of Mullah Barader last month) will never have the impact U.S. politicians claim, because the group's structure is so fluid.
Musharraf also noted that extremism in Muslim youth is rising in India, citing eight recent bombings, six of which were committed by local mujahideens.
What caught my attention was the subtle difference in his reference to an increase in extremism among Muslims, whereas we usually phrase the occurrence
as an increase in Muslim extremism. Very subtle.
Then Musharraf made his necessary statement on the war on terror: "We must win... Losing and quitting is not an option." A couple folks tried to get
applause going, but it died off.
Then he elaborated, suggesting that U.S. politicians' failure to discuss the implications of "quitting" was the cause of the United States' popular anti-war
sentiment. The former president then suggested that true leadership emerges "when public opinion goes wrong," which was a slightly eerie way of addressing
the matter, given his political past.
Musharraf then proceeded to give the audience a war on terror pep talk, providing a three-pronged strategy (military, political, economic), with tips such as
"speak from a position of strength." He also emphasized the importance of sensitivity to ethnic diversity and giving political representation to the
majority. He claimed to approve of President Obama's addition of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, but disagreed strongly with the concept of a timeline. "We cannot do this if we send them the message that we will be gone in two years."
He then took a moment to scold India for "trying to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan."
After getting worked up about India, Musharraf tried to lighten the mood with a joke about elephants trampling the grass both by fighting and making love.
People clapped again.
He then moved back into pep talk mode, talking about being a man of peace after witnessing the ravages of war, and that we need to exhibit three qualities:
sincerity, flexibility, and boldness.
Then he switched back to India again, talking about Pakistan suffering from "an existential threat to it, with a mass of Indian forces... oriented towards
Pakistan," using this as a transition to explain Pakistan's need for nuclear capabilities as part of its military strategy of deterrence. He took the
opportunity to reassure the crowd that terrorists will never get hold of Pakistan's nuclear assets, as they are under state control.
His lecture ended with another call for Pashtuns to receive dominant control of the government in Afghanistan and a salute to the crowd.