Pervez Musharraf ruled perpetually turbulent Pakistan with a military fist for nearly nine years but, unpopular and facing impeachment, fled in 2008. Now plotting a return from his home in London, he claims he will again lead Pakistan. He talked to The Globe and Mail's Rod Mickleburgh while in Vancouver this week to speak to the elite Bon Mot Book Club.
You were part of the search for Osama bin Laden. Where is he?
I don't know. There's a misperception that the whole army was deployed to hunt down Osama bin Laden. That's not the case. It was to hunt down extremists wherever they are. But seeing films of him, I thought he could be in the Bajaur Agency and Kunar Province of Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban.
How would you assess the state of Pakistan today?
It is bad. The people are dismayed, despondent and demoralized. Basically, it is the result of a dysfunctional government.
Has it got worse since you left?
Certainly, by 200 per cent. In two years, the economy has gone down, as well as people's welfare. Essential items for the poor are four times more expensive. So there is poverty, jobs are less, factories have closed.
Do you accept any responsibility for these calamitous times?
No. Every socio-economic indicator was positive in 2008. On the law and order side, yes, there was a problem, but Taliban extremism was not as bad.
Does the recent assassination of Punjabi governor Salman Taseer represent the end of tolerance and liberalism?
What happened is terrible, and I am really dismayed at how this man [the assassin]is being cheered. But there are many elements involved. Without condoning what the man has done, the governor called the [blasphemy]law "a black law," which he should not have done.
The problem is that some people use it to carry out their personal vendettas against innocent people. So we have to bring about amendments of this law. That is real leadership, which is not there, and leads to polarization and hysteria.
Well, to some extent, it has been dented. I shouldn't say that nothing has happened. Jinnah was certainly a very secularly minded person but he did want Pakistan for the Muslims of the country. We wanted a homeland, so that we could lead our lives according to our customs and traditions around our own religion. So it an Islamic Republic of Pakistan was created.
Is stable democracy impossible?
What's needed is a political party and a leader who can unify in thought and action the democratic process, which means the people, the military and the bureaucracy. Anyone who can unify these three in thought and action, I think I can deliver democracy to Pakistan.
Has there been such a leader?
Well, you won't call me democratic. I was a military man, but I was elected democratically. Now, frankly, I have entered politics, and I have great hopes.
Why have you stayed outside Pakistan: fears for your own safety or possible court charges?
You have identified both problems correctly. But there is no case against me at this moment.
You have admitted to mistakes.
You go to Pakistan and ask any Pakistani are they remembering me now? You will get the answer: "Yes, you must come back." The people are asking me to come back, because they are suffering.
You have survived several assassination attempts. What's it like?
I don't get up in the morning and think whether I am going to live or not. I have started believing in destiny.
I don't think one should imagine that everywhere one is moving, one is in danger. I move around very freely.
Yet there are two security guys outside your door right now.
But that doesn't mean I worry.
When are you going back to Pakistan?
I expect a good reception. Only then will I go.
One critic has said: "Mr. Musharraf is dangerously prone to self-delusion." Is he right?
Well, I don't believe only in dreaming. At a later stage, I will prove that statement wrong.
What has to be done to get the country out of this chaos?
The main problem is the budget deficit and the balance of payments deficit. We turned both around in 1999, when the situation was much worse than this.
And combatting extremism?
Well, that is key.
And you can lead a government that can do this?
I did it for nine years, and I can do it again.
I understand you are grateful to Canada for something.
Yes. When we approached Paris Club [of high-level developed countries] we had a debt of $12.5-billion. Canada was the first country to write off our debt of $300-million or something. I will always remember that.
But are you not disappointed Canada will soon withdraw from military action in Afghanistan?
Yes. I think without stabilizing conditions on the ground in Afghanistan, there should be no withdrawal.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.