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Musharraf and a dog named Che

world Updated: Mar 02, 2009 12:24 IST
Amit Baruah

Pervez Musharraf is possibly one of the most interviewed leaders in the world.

But the man who ruled over Pakistan’s destiny from 1999 to 2008, first as army chief and then as president, has already conveyed to me that this meeting is going to be an off-the-record conversation over tea. No interview please.

Musharraf, I was told, continues to live in the official residence of the country’s army chief in Pindi due to security reasons and would be happy to meet me.

And so I head with a friend, who has helped arrange the meeting, to Army House in Rawalpindi from Islamabad late Sunday morning .

I see a white colonial British bungalow beyond the security barriers in the middle of sprawling grounds – looking quite like those occupied by ministers and judges in Lutyens’ Delhi.

General Musharraf is walking his dog Che, named after the Latin American revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, and would just be in we are told while we wait in a room adjoining the main house where he receives visitors.

There’s a picture of Pakistan’s Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah sitting with his pet dogs and a maroon Bang & Olufsen television in the room.

Soon enough, the General enters with Che, a German Shepherd, who is made to sit silently in the room as we begin talking. He’s just returned from Karachi after a week, where his architect daughter lives.

He is, as usual, confident and direct; unfazed by the threats he faces from Islamist terrorists, who twice attacked his convoy not far from Army House in December 2003.

Musharraf is surprised to learn that this is my first visit to Pindi, even though I lived in Islamabad as a resident
correspondent for an Indian newspaper from 1997 to 2000.

We chat over that promised cup of tea about the current state of Pakistan, the Mumbai attacks and how India and Pakistan came close to a deal on Kashmir.

After spending nearly 40 minutes with the former army chief and coup maker of 1999, I come away feeling that Musharraf could still fancy a role for himself in the politics of Pakistan. Retirement may not be on his agenda for long.

For the moment, though out of active politics since he stepped down as president on August 18, 2008, the general continues to receive many visitors.

“He plays tennis every evening and some golf as well,” says an associate. And, he loves to read and is a regular at lunches and dinners.

Musharraf will soon be leaving Army House. His house in Chak Shahzad, roughly the Sainik Farms of Delhi, on the outskirts of Islamabad, is being readied.

In the next few days, Musharraf will travel to New Delhi to deliver an address at a private conference. That’s why, I’ve been told, nothing will be on record.

As we drive out of his residence, I see regular army soldiers outside. The threat to Musharraf’s life is clear and present.

Much like the country he presided over for almost a decade.