When it comes to international affairs, “one should approach problems with an open mind, with sincerity and flexibility,” said General Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, at an event at the Yale School of Management on April 24.
The Leaders Forum event was co-sponsored by the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and the Global Network for Advanced Management. Musharraf, who staged a coup in 1999 to become president of Pakistan, resigned in 2008 and was indicted in 2013 for his alleged role in the 2007 assassination of his rival Benazir Bhutto. He is currently awaiting trial but was permitted to travel abroad in 2016 for medical treatment.
He spoke with Bob Woodward, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his reporting for the Washington Post, with Carl Bernstein, that contributed to the resignation of Richard Nixon. Woodward, who is now the Post’s associate editor and a lecturer in Yale’s Department of English, pressed the former Pakistani leader on topics that included U.S.-Pakistan relations, continuing tension between Pakistan and India, conflicts in Afghanistan, and the unique foreign policy challenges presented by President Donald Trump.
Speaking about relations with the United States, Musharraf said that it’s important that Pakistan not be overlooked as a strategic ally in fighting terrorism, especially given the country’s location between Iran, Afghanistan, China, and India—each a country, he said, of special significance to the United States. He noted that every nation has “interests and sensitivities,” and as such should not be micromanaged, even by a superpower.
He also criticized the U.S. for trying to run Afghanistan with a minority government and accusing Pakistan of not doing enough to counter extremism. “The way terrorism is going…anything is possible. There are terrorists in Pakistan. There is no doubt about it. But mainly the base of terrorists around the world—between Al Qaeda, or ISIS, or the Taliban—is Afghanistan. However, certainly, they have links in Pakistan. So something happened, and if there was some training going on from Pakistan, that shouldn’t [make people] infer that Pakistan is the rogue country. That is where we go wrong.” He denied having had knowledge of Osama bin Laden hiding in Pakistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Musharraf did have praise for U.S. diplomacy during the near-disastrous conflict between India and Pakistan in 2002. “[Former Secretary of State Colin Powell] used to ring me up every second or third day cooling me down,” Musharraf said. “I think I give all the credit to him.”
Musharraf, who fought in the 1965 and 1971 wars between Pakistan and India, expressed frustration about his hopes for peace between the two nations. “We can’t go to war—we are both nuclear,” he said. “So what is the non-military solution? Economic strangulation? International isolation? Weaken their army? Internal destabilization? This is what the plan is. So how do we counter it? So let’s be very frank. We must have peace in the interest of both India and Pakistan. Genuinely, I believe in peace, but it cannot be one-handed.”
Woodward quoted Trump as saying that “real power is…fear,” and asked Musharraf if he agreed. The general replied that the definition depends on which side you’re on: “When you are the stronger side, real power would be humility. When you are the weaker side, the real power is to put the fear of God in the stronger one’s mind—[to say,] ‘We won’t take any nonsense from you…’ But may I suggest to the United States, yes, indeed, humility would be power.” He expressed optimism, though, in regard to Trump’s role in navigating foreign policy, in that Trump is “uninitiated” on the subject and can therefore learn with a clean (and presumably neutral) slate.
Although Pakistan is a nuclear state, Musharraf said he believes that the power that U.S. and Russian presidents have to launch nuclear weapons is inappropriate and dangerous. He praised the checks the Pakistani constitution enforces so that one person cannot make the decision to begin a nuclear war. Still, said Woodward, “Somebody told me that Pakistan has 100 nuclear weapons, maybe more. Isn’t that too many?”
“To an extent, I would agree that even one is too many,” Musharraf replied. “I think if anyone uses a nuclear bomb, he should commit suicide after that. He should leave the world himself. There is a targeting policy, and there is an employment policy, that we have created ourselves—and according to that, it is not too many.” Woodward noted that Pakistan nevertheless keeps its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent. “We have it as a deterrent,” Musharraf replied. “But I have a different theory of deterrence. My theory of deterrence is not that the [mere] possession of force is deterrence; the intent to use that force is the real deterrence. The enemy should know that maybe I’m mad enough to use them.”
Musharraf said he would run for office again if he thought it would benefit Pakistan, but not to satisfy his own ego. Asked what the Pakistani people need now, Musharraf said, “The core issue: good leadership. From that flows good governance, and many say good governance has to be corruption-free and nepotism-free. If you can manage this, Pakistan has all the resources and all the potential to stand on its own feet, be self-reliant and progressive.”
This piece was originally published on the Yale School of Management website.