In The Line of Fire: A Memoir

By President General Pervez Musharraf
Publishers: Simon & Schuster (USA)
Price: Rs 995


Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s book is drawing crowds to bookshops across Indian cities, and heavy fire from critics in India and Pakistan, writes FAISAL HASHMI.

It is rare that a publisher takes orders for hundreds of thousands of copies of a book even before it is published. In The Line of Fire: A Memoir  by Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf is such a book. Curious bibliophiles thronged bookshops in cities across India just after its release in New York on September 25.

The Delhi-based regional manager of the American publisher of the book Simon & Schuster, Rahul Shrivastava, said they had decided to import 8,000 copies of the book, but the enthusiasm of readers led them to import 12,000 copies. A large number of people were booking orders on phone, bookshop owners of Delhi said.

What was the reason of people’s excitement? Pakistan’s generals have been in the habit of writing books, yet few of them wrote an autobiography while being presidents. Dignity of the post, confidentiality and restraints of statecraft kept them from such untimely penmanship. This is the tradition in Western democracies. In any case Gen Musharraf does not have any great use for democracy.

The book had reached Pakistan on September 25 and created a stir among readers. However, it is not the case that every reader is an admirer of Gen Musharraf. Some old-time military officers (especially those who have a fixation with India and Kashmir) took exception. They were of the opinion that the book violated confidentiality and had the potential to jeopardise national security. President Musharraf has also resorted to sensational claims (a foolproof method to make a book a big hit) which reminds us of former Indian external affairs minister Jaswant Singh’s book, which had referred to an American "mole" in the PMO in former Indian prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s time. When Mr Singh was asked to name the mole he failed to substantiate his claim.

One of the sensational claims of Gen Musharraf is that post-September 11 US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage had talked rudely to him. Armitage told Musharraf to cooperate with the US in its campaign against Taliban. Otherwise the Americans would bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age". The general, acting promptly, took an "about-turn" and got down to the business of helping the US in crushing old friends.

US State Department has denied Musharraf’s claim. Interestingly, Armitage is not only a weight lifter but also behaves like the regular weight lifter who tends to think with his muscles. This is why people tend to believe the general rather than the State Department. By the way, some people in America consider insolence an instrument of diplomacy. Former US president Richard M. Nixon was a staunch believer in this theory. He claimed that if he acted mad the USSR would get intimidated. His swear words for former Indian PM Indira Gandhi were rather (in)famous. But let’s get back to Armitage and Musharraf. It is common knowledge how impolite US diplomats like Richard Holbrook and John Bolton are and how rudely they talk to representatives of developing countries in UN and other fora.

Gen Musharraf’s revelation about Armitage might be true, but it left a bad taste in people’s mouth in Pakistan. Asad Durrani, former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), said, "Such remarks may well sell your book but it creates more controversies." In India, too, people took exception to some of the claims made in the book. Former national security adviser Brajesh Mishra dismissed Musharraf’s description of Kargil episode as "a tissue of lies". Speaking to a TV channel, Mishra rubbished Musharraf’s understanding that the Indian army’s intention to cross the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan led to Kargil conflict.

President Musharraf has written Pakistan army had won a convincing victory in Kargil and set a record of sorts. This version of the conflict has exposed his earlier claim that Kargil was fought by "freedom fighters", not by Pakistan army. He said only five battalions (around five thousand army personnel) of Pakistan were there to help freedom fighters. And they had engaged more than five divisions of Indian army (i.e., many times more than Pakistan army had). Gen Musharraf has also claimed that Indian army was trained to fight in the southern plains, not in the freezing mountains of Kargil.

Interestingly, he has already been gloating over Pakistan having engaged India in Kargil and forced it to incur crippling expenses. He goes on to declare that India’s nuclear arsenal (especially those tested in Pokhran during Vajpayee regime) could be an imitation of Pakistan’s. His suspicion is based on the premise that Pakistan’s nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was in the habit of selling the country’s nuclear secrets. As Khan’s area of work was Dubai also, India’s spies might have stolen the technology form there. That somehow looks a little incredible.

About the failure of Agra summit, President Musharraf alleges that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee failed to rise to the occasion. He says he met Vajpayee at 11 pm and categorically told him that there was someone above them who overruled them. He told Vajpayee that both of them had been humiliated. All the while, Vajpayee sat silent and glum. Formally thanking him, President Musharraf left briskly.

About the present Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, Gen Musharraf writes the system (government officials, diplomats, intelligence agencies and perhaps the army also) has got the better of him. A statesman should run the system, not get subservient to it.

About Osama bin Laden, Gen Musharraf writes Laden has developed a well-organised system of communication. Laden’s "courier" service has four layers. Top leaders of al-Qaeda never send a written message. Generally, they ask them to commit a message to memory and transmit it verbatim.

On Kashmir, Gen Musharraf says he has reflected on the issue for hours to come out with some "out of the box" solutions. He says the idea he has honed for a long time would be acceptable to all parties to the dispute " Pakistan, India, and Kashmiris. But, each one of them will have to step back a little.

General Musharraf’s claims have drawn some scathing criticism from important persons in India. India’s army chief of that period General V.B. Mullick has said India had never been planning to cross the LoC as claimed by Gen Musharraf.

For writing the book, General Musharraf received $1 million in advance. The Hindi version of the book named Agnipath is also ready to hit the stands. The Hindi version may attract more readers as it is priced at Rs 395 while the English version’s cost is Rs 995.

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