Musharraf defends record

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf defends his record at a dinner held in Dubai

DUBAI, UAE (05/03/2011) Former president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf announces his return to politics and his new political party at Emirates Hills, Dubai. (Callaghan Walsh / for The National)

DUBAI // The former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has hit out at critics of his handling of a 2007 military raid on a mosque that had been taken over by Islamic militants, and defended his record while in power.

He made the remarks during a question and answer session with guests at a dinner held in his honour at Emirates Hills on Saturday evening.

He described media reports of the deaths of women and children, after special forces stormed the Lal, or Red, Mosque complex in Islamabad retaking it from Islamic militants, as lies.

"The problem is that what is being projected by some people that women and children were killed during the operation is nonsense, it's lies," he said,

"You try to find the families of these women and children who are supposed to have died during the operation and you won't because it did not happen."

Mr Musharraf, who was in power from 1999 to 2008, said the government had been involved in six months of fruitless negotiations with Jamia Hafsa militants who were demanding countrywide Sharia law.

He said most of the women and children had been evacuated from the sprawling complex and left four hours before the raid took place.

Mr Musharraf said there was a "cultish influence" between those in charge at the mosque and the children and young women inside.

"One minute she could make them laugh and five minutes later she could make them cry. That was the kind of influence she had," he said talking about one of the women Islamists inside the mosque.

"For six months they were there. They killed four policemen and attacked and beat three Chinese workers," he said, adding that he was called by the Chinese president who expressed concern.

"In this situation the government must act, it must establish a writ," he said.

He drew comparisons with the Indian authorities who crushed a Sikh uprising in 1984 at the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, which he said left "hundreds if not thousands" of people dead.

Mr Musharraf said the authorities were gaining valuable intelligence from inside the mosque through undercover agents who had infiltrated the group.

"The action started when there were about 120 people inside. We were informed that there were foreigners there as well, including five Arab-looking men wearing explosive jackets. They also had Molotov cocktails and all kinds of ammunition," he said.

More than 100 people were killed during the operation and Mr Musharraf said his "heart bled" for those in the army who had lost their lives during the raid.

In a speech earlier in the evening, he alluded to the current unrest in the Arab world and said it was vital for countries to create "economic emancipation" that could trickle down to people, offering them better education, health care and job prospects.

Otherwise, he said, the end result is protests like those in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

"People say I was a failure at the end of my time in office but how do you judge success or failure in politics," said Mr Musharraf.

During the decade or so before he seized control he said the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif could count only the M2 motorway as a major project that had been completed.

Whereas during his tenure, he said, the motorway network had been expanded with more than six new roads, new dams were constructed and there was a massive increase in mobile phone users from 600,000 in 2001-2002 to 80 million today.

He added that his new All Pakistan Muslim League political party would be appointing staff in Pakistan in the coming weeks as he seeks a political comeback.