KARACHI: Former President and COAS General Rtd Pervez Musharraf has said  if the chips are down, the military has a role to play.  “It’s a judgement call to save Pakistan. General Raheel Sharif is popular. He is a wonderful officer, a gentleman. The army is in a fallback position. Unlike Syria and Iraq, things are different here. Nothing can happen to Pakistan as long as the military stands. I believe the military should never come upfront in the country’s affairs.”

The former president said this in response to a question about hero worship in Pakistan after delivering a talk on ‘Pakistan’s Past, Present and Future’ organised by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations (KCFR) at a hotel on Friday evening.

Gen Musharraf said Pakistan was a difficult country to govern because of the diversities that it had. “Democracy is the ultimate form of government but has to be executed,” he said clarifying that the military was not a permanent solution to problems. To expand on his point, he talked about how in his tenure he tried not to ‘apply’ martial law and instead introduced a system that would be run by civilians and watched over by military men so that the civilians could be prodded to deliver. “There are no angels in Pakistan,” he commented, highlighting the need to restructure the political system.

Gen Musharraf said if the potentials that Pakistan had could be utilised to the full, the country would be able to move on the path of socio-economic, self-sustaining prosperity. He said Pakistan had tremendous water resources (glacial water, monsoon water), it had a fertile land, had energy resources (water, coal, gas, etc), natural resources (copper-gold reserves) and an industrious, intelligent population. What’s lacking was literacy and insufficient vocational training, he said.

Location-wise, he mentioned, Pakistan was strategically placed as the world’s focus had now shifted from being Eurocentric (after the Cold War) to South Asia. He said Pakistan was a nuclear power with the sixth largest military in the world, and the most trained in combat.

This led Gen Musharraf to address the issue of how to draw maximum leverage from these potentials. The first point that he mentioned was to achieve internal stability and socio-economic progress. He termed it essential to optimising the above-mentioned potentials. The second point was to work for regional peace. He said he was a military man, “a man of war, but for peace”. War was no more an answer because the weaponry had increased in lethality and accuracy, he told the attendees. The third point was the emancipation of the Ummah, he argued, citing that 22 of the 57 Muslim countries were grappling with poverty and illiteracy. For all of those goals to accomplish, he urged, an able leadership running a corruption and nepotism-free government was a prerequisite.

Gen Musharraf said Pakistan was faced with an existential threat from the east. “We cannot lower our guard. We want peace but with honour and dignity. No compromise on dignity,” he said.

Reverting to the topic of development of a state, he said the economy was the key factor but there were budget deficits and trade problems. “We spend more than we earn, we import more than export,” he said and reasoned we needed to diversify our products and markets, besides broadening the tax base. On the subject of regional peace, Gen Musharraf said the only regional organisation was Saarc. “I’m sorry to say, it’s impotent,” he remarked.

With regard to Pakistan-India relations, he said there were disputes — including Sir Creek, Siachen and Kashmir — which could not be ignored. He said the two countries had already fought three wars.

When he was in government, he came up with a formula of a four-point agenda: demilitarisation from the Line of Control (LoC) and towns, maximum self-governance, mechanisms to see self-governance and make the LoC irrelevant. He said his idea was to try out that formula for 15 to 20 years and revisit the situation. “But that opportunity has gone by,” he said. He iterated we needed to start again, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in no mood for doing that. Pakistan couldn’t compromise on honour and dignity, he said and hoped Mr Modi understood it.

On Afghanistan, Gen Musharraf said that after 9/11 it was the West that committed the biggest blunder when Al Qaeda and the Taliban had left and created a vacuum in the country. He was of the opinion that the West couldn’t convert its military victory into a political victory. He feared that if American and Isaf forces left, Afghanistan might return to the 1996 Taliban versus the Northern Alliance situation. “It must not happen,” he emphasised.

Gen Musharraf said Afghanistan was being used to create trouble in Pakistan. If it continued happening, he said, Pakistan would be forced to find ways to check that. He said Pakistan had ethnic, religious, geographical and historic bonds with Afghanistan.

Touching upon the topic of international peace, he said the Palestinian dispute must be resolved by the West. He called it the root cause of incidents like 9/11.

He rounded off his talk by saying that it pained him to see that Pakistan had so much potential to become self-sufficient, but “where are we now?”

During the question-and-answer session, Gen Musharraf said though the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was his mistake for which he would like to apologise, it was the people of Pakistan who voted for the Pakistan People’s Party in elections.