Special Editorial Feature

The Unreported
Musharraf-Clinton Dialogue

As reproduced from his notes and recall by Senator (r) Javed Jabbar.

February 2023
With the consent of the author and publisher of “A General in Particular: Interactions with Pervez Musharraf”, SouthAsia is pleased to reproduce --- for the first time in any journal --- the relevant text of chapter 18 and the complete text of chapter 19. The book is the third best-selling political memoir by Senator (r) Javed Jabbar (and his 19th book) published in Pakistan in 2021-22 by Paramount Books, Karachi and worldwide on Amazon/Kindle.
Chapter 19 comprises the first-ever publication anywhere of the closed-door dialogue between President Bill Clinton and Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf which took place on 25th March 2000 in Islamabad at which the author was also present. As a perusal of the text reveals, the candid dialogue between an elected American President and an unelected Pakistani military ruler covered a wide and vital range of internal, bilateral, regional and global issues that marked the advent of the 21st century. Aptly described by General Ehsan Ul Haq, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and former DG. ISI in his Foreword, the whole book represents “a treasured record of historical value and a significant contribution.”

In the forenoon of 25th March 2000, Pervez Musharraf and the Cabinet welcomed President Bill Clinton and his entourage at the CE’s Secretariat in Islamabad. As I shook hands with the man from the White House, two thoughts occurred even as one noted his robust, still youthful face and the eyes with a veil of humour in them. One thought was about Clinton’s extraordinary capacity to not only survive the Monica Lewinsky scandal but to actually achieve a gain in his poll ratings even during and after the live telecast of his virtual interrogation conducted by the prosecutor about the scandal — marked by his almost hilarious yet effective evasion of defining a particular “sexual” encounter. Only a few weeks earlier in February 2000 the Senate had rejected the attempt to impeach him — another remarkable indicator of his capacity for weathering severe political storms. The other thought was that, though belatedly done, here was an American President who had enough respect for Muslim lives to order the bombing of Serbia in order to prevent further massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo.

I also could not help noticing that as the brief welcome formalities and handshakes proceeded, no cameras recorded the scene as previously agreed.

There were three phases of the President’s visit of which I was a part. The first phase was a restricted dialogue. The second phase was a larger scale interaction with the whole Cabinet seated at a conference table. The third phase was at a lunch in the Aiwan-e-Sadr hosted by President Rafiq Tarrar who, in many ways, was the opposite of his guest in several respects.

It was good to be included by Pervez Musharraf in the first phase. This comprised a candid dialogue in which both Heads of Government were accompanied by six aides and officials. The Pakistan six included: Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar, Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz, Foreign Secretary Inam ul Haque, Ambassador to USA Maleeha Lodhi, Lt. General Ghulam Ahmed, COS to CE and myself. The Americans comprised: Secretary of State Madeline Albright, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Chief of Staff John Podesta, Ambassador Bill Milam and one other member of the Clinton team.

The schedule had allotted about 35 minutes for this first phase. In the event, it went over 85 minutes, concluding with a one-on-one session of about 20 minutes in which Pervez Musharraf and Bill Clinton were alone after all others had left the room.

Both during the 120-minute restricted group dialogue and in the 20 minutes one-on-one session — when only the two Heads of Government were in the closed room and all the rest were outside — it was notable that Madeline Albright and at least 2 of her colleagues seemed concerned at the sessions going beyond the allotted time, with the one-on-one session being an unexpected last-minute addition. When the restricted group dialogue’s duration had become about 45 minutes, i.e. 10 minutes more than allotted, I saw Albright slipping a small chit to Clinton who read it. And if it was a reminder that it was “Time up”, he carried on regardless. As indeed, two more such chits were also ignored when they came from Sandy Berger and John Podesta. But those chits may well have been about talking points that Clinton needed to be reminded of — even though the body language of the chit-passers indicated they were not comfortable about going into so much extra time.

I was the only member of the Pakistan group who made notes. Neither Pervez Musharraf nor anyone else asked me to do so. I almost reflexively began to scribble on a pad the words spoken by the host and his chief guest. Fortunately, that pad has remained with me, along with 4 other pads of notes from many more that have been lost over the past 20 years.

Before I reproduce the notes, brief remarks about the ambience.

We were a total of 14 people in the room (7 from each side including the two Heads), seated in chairs facing each other. Pervez Musharraf was seated to the left of his colleagues as were Bill Clinton’s colleagues seated to his left.

As Pervez Musharraf began his welcome remarks and continued for the next four or five minutes, followed by Bill Clinton’s initial comments, there was clearly evident a certain stiffness on both sides, an under-current of mild yet palpable discomfort. Where Pervez Musharraf had commenced his remarks with a degree of tentativeness, he soon developed a self-assured manner. But gradually, after about the first 20 minutes, I saw an unmistakably more relaxed demeanour in both leaders. Smiles were exchanged. There were chuckles. Heads nodded. Even when prickly subjects were covered, a cordiality grew into a faint yet tangible warmth. As the tenor improved it was distracting yet amusing to note that Bill Clinton’s aides were not as increasingly empathetic as their leader seemed to be. The obvious question in their minds must have been: “An American President should not become so amicable and relaxed with a military dictator — even if there are no cameras to record this scene.”

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