Pervez Musharraf loved talking, had a swagger that was entirely his own and could at times acquire an air of arrogance. The moods matched the occasion. Flamboyance, if the need be. Humility, if the situation demanded. The 2002 SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, is remembered for his surprise handshake with Atal Bihari Vajpayee in what arguably was a smart bid to break the ice with the Indian leader after the Agra fiasco and the attack on Indian Parliament.
The period between 2001-2002 was the worst for bilateral Indo-Pak ties. Musharraf’s anxiety to bury the past and make a new beginning as a peacenik was evident in his response to suggestions that why doesn’t he pick up the phone and talk to Vajpayee. “Well, I can. But what if he does not take the call. It will be sheer humiliation…”
Speechless but savvy
If Kathmandu brought out a politically naïve but relatively dependable Musharraf — by then a partner in the US-led post-9/11 war on terror — his 2003 incarnation was savvier. Vajpayee’s April 19 “hand of friendship” speech in Srinagar made him roll out the red carpet for a delegation of Indian parliamentarians. Like most Pakistanis, so overwhelmed was he by Lalu Yadav’s rustic charms that he described him later as an “artiste of a politician.”
But one who left Musharraf speechless was TV anchor Vinod Dua. He called on the President a day after his 60th birthday on August 11. The Congress’s Margaret Alva greeted him with an angvastram (a tri-coloured scarf) considered auspicious in South India: “It symbolises good luck, Mr President. Can I, if you permit, place it across your shoulders.” The General obliged, moving on to other guests — the scarf slung casually over his military uniform. What left him startled was Dua’s impromptu ‘the tri-colour looks good on you ” allusion to the Indian flag.
A year later, Musharraf was better prepared for journalistic jibes. “Do you like Indian music,” someone asked him at the luncheon he hosted at the Governor’s House in Lahore for the first ever Indian media delegation to PoK. “Yes, I do,” he said. “But what period?” the scribe persisted. Pat came the reply: “the pre-Partition period.”