The Pakistani leader recounts a life steered by “luck and destiny” and vigorously defends and promotes his nation to the world.
A turning point in Musharraf’s well-written memoir comes when he recalls one of many attempts to remove him from the scene. In 1999, former leader Nawaz Sharif engineered a bizarre coup that hinged on keeping Musharraf, then commander of the Pakistani military, from leading the army against him by preventing his plane from landing on Pakistani soil. Eventually landing with only a few minutes’ worth of fuel to spare, Musharraf borrowed a flak jacket, coordinated the arrest of the coup leaders and took control of a country that, he ruefully acknowledges, has not done its best to be a democracy. Clearly, by Musharraf’s account, he’s working to improve matters; he advocates religious freedom, gender equality and freedom of speech, and urges that if Pakistan is to move toward prosperity and international influence, it will “have to suppress extremism and intolerance and eradicate them from our society.” Such opinions have inspired several assassination attempts, and Musharraf’s efforts at destroying al-Qaeda strongholds within the country, which he describes in much detail, have earned him new enemies. Yet the now widely reported news in this memoir is another confrontation: Following 9/11, he writes, the American ambassador presented him with a list of demands that he found unacceptable, among them “blanket overflight and landing rights” that were, he believed, tantamount to a surrender of national sovereignty. Daring to stand up earned him what he describes as “the most undiplomatic statement ever made” on the part of U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who repeated his boss’s for-us-or-for-the-terrorists formula and warned that “if we chose the terrorists, then we should be prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age.”
Pakistan, Musharraf insists, is doing what it can to contain Islamist terrorism. Time will tell, but his memoir sheds much light on the politics and challenges of the region.