London, Feb.18 : During her interview of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad, Jemima Khan, the ex-wife of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, arrived at the conclusion that Musharraf sans his army regalia, looked diminished.
Recalling that she was escorted into Musharraf's presence after an hour-long wait in the ante-room of the Camp Office in Rawalpindi, Jemima said that the last time that she saw Musharraf in the flesh, he looked commanding in his full army regalia.
"I find his brown business suit and dainty penny loafers which have replaced the sturdy army boots almost unsettling. He seems to have lost both height and swagger. And his body language seems just a touch defensive. The immaculate hair also troubles me. Boot-polish black, artfully grey at the temples, it shows signs of some work," she recalled.
She recalls that the interview started off on an unfortunate note, in that she reminded Musharraf about her protest against him during his visit to 10, Downing Street on January 28.
She said that Musharraf expressed his disappointment, and she felt at that stage that she had been "called to his office for a sound ticking-off."
"I was disappointed. Very disappointed. I was disappointed because you ought to be knowing our environment ... what Pakistanis are like ... what is our society. Well, it's acceptable if a person has never visited Pakistan and doesn't know Pakistan to have ideal views [presumably, he means idealistic views]. But I thought you ought to be knowing what Pakistan is ... This is not an ideal society," she quoted Musharraf , as saying.
She recalled that she last met Musharraf three days before the last elections in 2002, and more than five and a half years later, she felt there was a sea change in his approach to issues.
She said that when she first heard of him, she was a "somewhat naive supporter".
"Selfishly, I was relieved when he succeeded came to power by military coup on 12 October 1999. Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister he deposed, had tried to have me jailed on trumped-up, politically motivated charges of smuggling - a non-bailable offence in Pakistan. I suspect it was to intimidate my ex-husband, who at that time was a noisy critic. I had scarpered to London before I could be arrested and was able to return with my two children to Pakistan six months later only after Musharraf seized power and the charges against me were duly dropped."
When he first came to power, Jemima says Musharraf's express aim was to clean up Pakistan politics.
"He despised the corrupt politicians as much as anyone. He immediately set up his own national accountability bureau and declared that his mission was to hold the corrupt accountable."
When she interviewed him this year, she said that she told him that she was disappointed to see the corrupt not only getting off scot-free, but also had heard that he (Musharraf) would be doing business with the very same politicians he wanted to get rid of.
She says that Musharraf disarmingly agreed with a lot of what she said, and informed her "that he had no other choice but to deal with the existing leaders of the main parties."
"Yes, I agree with you [that charges should not have been dropped]. But then Benazir has good contacts abroad in your country, who thought she was the future of the country," she quotes Musharraf , as saying.
When she pressed him further on the corruption issue, suggesting that the guilty should have been forced to pass through the proper judicial process, she quotes Musharraf as saying: "No," because they would have all joined and then I would have been out."
"At this point he looks a bit wild eyed. He quickly adds that, of course, being in power has never been his ultimate goal. How much easier it would be, he adds wistfully and a touch unconvincingly, if he'd just resigned to play golf," she quotes him as saying.
"Often he fails to see the irony in his own words, which can be unintentionally comic. Several times I have to suppress a smile. When confronted with the suggestion, for example, that he will have to work with a coalition government consisting of some the most infamous crooks in Pakistan, he responds with great sincerity, "I'm not running a martial law here. What can I do?"
He adds, "My role as a president is simply the checks and balances - the seatbelts ... a sort of father figure to the Prime Minister but I won't have to see him for weeks."
The image he paints of himself as a benign, legitimised dictator is at odds with the recent Human Rights Watch report that accuses his regime of hundreds of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, harassment, intimidation and extra-judicial killings, Jemima says.