“The state has no right to interfere in the relationship between man and God”

Ally Adnan met General Pervez Musharraf at his Karachi residence and talked art and culture with him

“The state has no right to interfere in the relationship between man and God”
After a highly successful career in the military, and a controversial one in politics, General Pervez Musharraf spends his time in Karachi these days, fighting the plethora of charges brought against him. Confident, assured and articulate, the general seems anything but anxious about his future. In an exclusive interview for the Friday Times, he talks to Ally Adnan about art, culture, music and religion, in the comfort of his tastefully decorated but decidedly austere home in Karachi.

Your resignation in 2008 made many artists in Pakistan very sad. Some artists, such as vocalist Zille Huma and percussionist Abdul Sattar Tari, appeared genuinely devastated when you relinquished power. Why is that?

Artists are sensitive people who crave attention, respect and love. Pakistani leadership has always denied the three to our artists. I genuinely cared for our artists. Their welfare, growth and respect was important to me. I believe that is one of the reasons the artist community was sad to see me leave.

I remember a group of eight musicians who used to perform regularly at state dinners and events at the Presidency in Islamabad. These were talented musicians who played well and for long hours. Once, I enquired about their remuneration and found out that the group was paid a total of twenty-thousand rupees per performance. This was unfair and, in my opinion, deplorable. I changed their fees to twenty-five thousand rupees per musician for each performance.

Photographs by Shaharyar Khan
Photographs by Shaharyar Khan

There were several other instances where I made sure that our artists were treated fairly and afforded proper respect and dignity. I made awards of money and land to several talented artists. A large number of artists were decorated during my time. I recognized artists in a number of different ways. I visited ailing artists at their homes. Music became a regular part of certain government events. I personally made sure that the artists who performed at government functions were treated with respect and paid properly. I believe in giving everyone their due respect. Artists appreciated being treated well by me; they were not used to being given respect by national leaders. That is probably the reason behind my popularity in the artist community.

Pakistan faced serious problems – terrorism, failing international relations, war, security issues, religious fundamentalism, and much else – during your years in power. As president, were you able to devote enough time and attention to promoting the arts and preserving our cultural heritage?


The issues I was forced to deal with were more immediate, pressing and serious. I did not have the luxury of being able to give arts and culture the required time and attention. That does not mean I did not do anything. I believe I did a lot but wish that I had been able to do more.
I was dismayed to find out that the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad was the only place we took visiting dignitaries to see

I am a well-travelled and well-read individual. During state visits and personal trips overseas, I used to visit museums and art galleries. Theater and opera were always on my list of things to do. I enjoy music from all over the world and always made time to visit places of historical and cultural importance. As president, I was dismayed to find out that the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad was the only place we took visiting dignitaries. A nation with a history of thousands of years should have been able to do better than that. I made an effort to fix the problem.

I appointed Naeem Tahir as the chief executive of Pakistan National Council of Arts and tasked him with building the first national art gallery in Pakistan. The National Art Gallery Complex was completed in the year 2007 and houses fourteen exhibition halls, a modern theater, an open air theater, classrooms, a store and laboratories. It is often referred to as the ‘Jewel of Islamabad.’ I am proud of the accomplishment.


In 2002, I made Uxi Mufti responsible for the National Heritage Museum and the National Monument Museum. The National Heritage Museum is the largest museum in Pakistan and dedicated to the culture, history, traditions and ethnology of the Pakistan people. The Pakistan Monument, in the shape of a blooming flower, in Islamabad was completed in the year 2007. It is one of the prettiest sights in Islamabad.

The National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) was established in Karachi in 2005 to preserve and promote the traditions of art, theater and music in Pakistan. I wanted to make sure that interested students had an opportunity to gain a proper education in the fields. This institution affords them the opportunity.

There were several other projects that I started but was unable to complete. They seem to have been abandoned now.
My mother was a competent singer. My father played tabla

It is said that you asked Yousaf Raza Gillani to take special care of NAPA, an institution very dear to you, after your resignation.  Is the story true?

No, it is not.

After my resignation, I was asked to name some key people and institutions that I believed had to be protected for the benefit of Pakistan. I did provide the names but NAPA was not one of them. It was probably for the best that I did not include NAPA because everyone I had named as a key person was summarily removed from his post as soon as I left.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I enjoy film and ghazal music from the forties, fifties and sixties. Pakistan and India’s modern film music does not appeal to me. I am a fan of Kundan Lal Saigal. Mukesh is one of my favorite artists. I also love the songs of Muhammad Rafi, and Mehdi Hassan’s ghazals are excellent. I listen to them all the time. Noor Jehan, though, is my favorite singer; the world has not seen, and will not see, a better singer. I tend to like songs where both the music and the lyrics are of high quality.

How did you develop a love for music?

My mother was a competent singer. I grew up listening to her sing. My father played tabla. I remember that they used to perform together at friends’ homes all the time. When my father was stationed in Turkey, a performance of my parents was an essential part of all desi parties. I used to enjoy seeing them perform together. My parents had very good taste in music. As a young man, I was exposed to some of the best music of India and Pakistan, and developed my love for Saigal, Rafi, Mukesh, Noor Jehan and several other singers from there.


Did you encourage your children, Ayla and Bilal, to study music?

I did to some extent but not much encouragement was needed. They were in love with music even as children. I never got them an Ustad to formally learn music but did provide them an environment where they could listen to and appreciate good music. Ayla and Bilal both have a very good ear for music. Ayla was one of the founding members of the All Pakistan Music Conference in Karachi and has been running the institution as a director for several years. She has a special fondness for classical music. In my opinion, she has contributed significantly to the cause of classical music in Pakistan.

Your mother has been ill for a while. How is she doing now?

She is ninety-five. A lot of health problems crop up at that age but I am fortunate that she has been able to travel to Karachi and is now living with me. She is doing better now that she is with me and in Pakistan.
My mother does not know about all the cases that have been filed against me

Are you very close to your mother?

Yes, I am. I love and respect her. Age and ill health have affected her eyesight and hearing which is sad. This may be a blessing of sorts because she is unable to watch television now and, therefore, does not know about all the cases that have been filed against me. If she did, she would have worried for me. She is a woman of faith and, even at this age, continues to pray for me and my welfare.

Do you ask her to pray for you when you are worried?

I do not worry much. It takes a lot to make me worried or sad. A whole lot.

Was there a time during your presidency when you were sad and worried?

Yes, a period of sadness followed the suspension of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. A lot of people who should have known better, and quite a few who knew better, took sides with the lawyers against me. This made me very sad. Even Imran Khan was a supporter of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry at the time.

Do you feel vindicated now that a lot more has come to be known about Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry?

I do not care anymore, to be honest. The truth about Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has been known for quite some time now and I do not believe I need vindication. My record stands on its own.

I improved Pakistan’s financial condition significantly.  In 2006, we were the third fastest growing economy in the world and foreign investment in Pakistan was at a peak. My government helped reduce poverty, illiteracy and debt. My progressive policies improved the country’s image internationally. A large number of television and radio stations started operations during my time. Press was given unprecedented freedom. I believe that my government set Pakistan on a path of prosperity, growth, and economic reform. And, yes, we paid attention to the arts, culture and history.

Why is it important to pay attention to the arts, culture and history?

It is important because it forms the basis of self-respect. One needs to know his roots, history and heritage to recognize his true worth and potential. How else can one establish identity, self and character?

There is a big problem in Pakistan. No one seems to care about the lower-middle and poor classes. These people are unable to take vacations. They do not have the luxury to attend theater and concerts. Few recreational parks and gardens exist for them to visit. Few cinemas exist. Television, for a long time, was their only source of entertainment and one that was historically used more for propaganda than for entertainment. In addition to helping these people develop a sense of their worth, we need to tell them about their culture, heritage and history. We need them to be aware of the achievements of their forefathers. Even more importantly, they need to be entertained. They should have multiple means of entertainment available to them. Music, cinema, theater, dance, libraries, the internet, museums and art galleries - Pakistanis deserve it all. We need to make sure that they develop the confidence, pride and self-respect that is rightfully theirs.

Self-respect is very important to you. Right?

Yes, it is. My demeanor is not studied; I was born this way. I respect others and I respect myself. I was appalled to see Nawaz Sharif jump at the drop of a hat and board a plane to participate in Modi’s swearing in ceremony. Why did he do that? It would have been better to act with self-respect and restraint, and let Modi play his hand before jumping into action. It is important to improve relations with India but acting subservient to the larger country is not going to do it. Diplomacy, intelligence and self-respect are going to be needed to improve relations between the two nations. When I was president, the two countries did better with each other than they had done at most other times. We were in discussions about several major issues with India during my time. The dialog stopped abruptly when I left and has never been resumed properly. I started a dialog of equals. That is the only way to have a fair dialog.

Are you a religious person?

Yes, I am.

I am a Syed although I do not feel the need to advertise the fact. I believe in God. I believe in prayer. I am a man of faith. I believe in the Quran. I am a Muslim.

That being said, I also believe that religion is a private matter between a person and his creator. The state has no right to interfere in the relationship between man and God. The separation of church and state is mandatory. It must be respected.