President Asif Ali Zardari and his predecessor Pervez Musharraf are still learning the perils of living in the age of media.
Known for speaking first and thinking later, both are now both are having to eat up words that escaped their lips and went on to create their own separate firestorms.
General (retired) Musharraf is now denying that he ever told a television interviewer that he diverted U.S. funds meant for “the war on terror” to strengthen defences against India, and that he did this in the “national interest”.
In a statement, the former military ruler, presently on a lecture tour in the U.S., said the issue was not raised during the interview. “No question was asked regarding U.S. funds for fighting the militants in this interview or at any other time. I have never said Pakistan violated any agreement.”
Pakistan, he said, “never violated any agreement or misutilised” U.S. funds to augment its defences against India.
“As far as the equipment issued to a military unit is concerned, it moves wherever the unit is deployed,” he said. “The U.S. at the time was aware of what we were doing.”
The denial came after a backlash of criticism in Pakistan that he had compromised national interest with his statement. Just this month, the military had to deny it had modified U.S. Harpoon ship-to-ship missiles to hit land targets.
The U.S., where Congress is finalising assent to the Kerry-Lugar Bill that promises an annual $1.5-billion non-military aid for Pakistan aside from military assistance, has said it takes “very seriously” any allegation of misuse of its funds.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi lamented on Wednesday that General Musharraf’s statement did not strengthen Pakistan’s case, and he had not done the country “any service” by it.
Meanwhile, Mr. Zardari, who was cheerfully reported to have told journalists that General Musharraf had stepped down under the terms of a deal for his safe exit with international and local guarantors, is also denying he ever said this.
On Wednesday, the PML(N) submitted a privilege motion in the National Assembly, signed by all its 91 parliamentarians. The charge: Mr. Zardari’s widely reported statement amounted to a breach of parliamentary privilege and sovereignty.
An incensed PML(N), which wants General Musharraf punished for subverting the Constitution with a treason trial, has demanded Mr. Zardari reveal the details of the deal that he said also involved negotiations with him.
Seeing the coming storm, a hint of which the PML(N) gave on Tuesday, the President’s spokesman, Farahtullah Babar, said on Wednesday the media had got it all wrong.
According to him, the entire conversation had been “distorted and misrepresented” by the journalists present. The President had only remarked that “national political leaders and parties held negotiations among themselves to chase Musharraf out of office and restore the Presidency to the democratic forces.”
There was no mention, he said, of negotiations with so called national or international guarantors to give immunity to General Musharraf subsequent to his exit.