In The Line Of Fire, by Pervez Musharraf

A self-indulgent memoir that offers a skewed view of modern Pakistan
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The Independent Culture

When a leader is hunting down terrorists, building democracy, supporting freedom-fighters and empowering women, you wonder how he has found the time to write his memoirs. In General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan's case, the question is not only how, but why. His autobiography is a self-serving and self-indulgent argument justifying his conduct.

Except for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founding father, the general offers little credit to his predecessors. His contempt for democrats, in particular Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's flawed civilian leaders in the 1990s, is understandable. And to be fair, he is not kind to the uniformed Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia-ul Haq.

Yet the contempt for democrats translates into contempt for democracy itself. He fails to recognise it when he faces the real thing, in India, and can't resist putting quote marks around "the world's largest democracy" - as if it is a claim and not a fact.

Like all dictators, the means Musharraf has deployed to stabilise Pakistan are scarcely democratic. He grumbles how, in his early cabinets, he could select ministers strictly on merit, but after introducing limited elections, he had to accommodate others. Then he hogs the credit for the Pakistani economic miracle, only marginally crediting Shaukat Aziz, finance minister and now prime minister, whose banking skills made it possible.

Don't expect profound insights on the war on terror, either. While expressing regret over Daniel Pearl's killing, he needlessly mentions that the American reporter also had Israeli nationality - as if that rationalises the murder. Worse, he does not mention that British-born Omar Saeed Sheikh, who planned the Pearl abduction, had surrendered a week before his arrest was announced to a general with intelligence links who was Musharraf's friend. What happened during that week?

Musharraf is particularly crass on women's issues. He expresses sympathy for the brave Mukhtaran Mai, gang-raped by hooligans from another tribe as retribution because her brother had a consensual relationship with the rapists' sister. He won't tell his readers that his government banned her from travelling to the US when human-rights groups invited her, so that she would not "bad-mouth" Pakistan, a ban rescinded only after protests. Readers who want to understand contemporary Pakistan deserve a more honest book.

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