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Last Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006, 23:32 GMT 00:32 UK
Musharraf book draws mixed response
By Barbara Plett
BBC News, Islamabad

The cover of President Pervez Musharraf's memoirs
The book has generated a lot of controversy

At Saeed's bookshop in central Islamabad, the president's memoirs barely get on the display shelves before they're snatched up by eager customers.

"On average we sell 500 to 600 copies every day," says the beaming manager, Ahmed Saeed. "We had a waiting list of around 350 copies over the past month, and we have only 45 books left."

President Pervez Musharraf launched his autobiography, "In the Line of Fire", in New York on 25 September, to great fanfare abroad and anticipation at home.

"I'm very curious about what Musharraf has disclosed in this book," says one man.

"He's a very straightforward man. I'm proud of him, he's very clear about his perspectives, regarding his ambitions, and regarding Pakistan."


People are keen to see whether the general has spilled any state beans. But there are also mixed feelings about whether a sitting president should go so public with his views, and use a state trip overseas to promote them.

"It would have been better to wait until after he had gone out of power," says one shopper, flipping through the volume. "And it's a little expensive!"

"It's not too expensive," counters another. "President Musharraf said he would donate all the money for charity. I want to know about his personal life and achievements."

Indian soldiers load a 155mm Bofors gun during the Kargil conflict in 1999
The Kargil war is described as a 'stroke of genius'

Commentators, though, have been scathing about the contents.

"The book reveals that he's a military dictator, a mediocre man, and intellectually of low calibre," Mohammed Ziauddin, Islamabad editor for the Dawn newspaper, told the BBC.

"He is actually trying to make his own history. Perhaps he has a fiction of history in his mind."

Columnist Kamila Hyat says the president portrays himself as a kind of khaki superman rescuing Pakistan from peril.

"A man who honestly believes all this to be true cannot comprehend why he should be subjected to criticism or understand why at times it may be wise to enter into a process of consultation and discussion, rather than charging ahead with unilateral decisions," she writes in The News.

Explosive indiscretions

Certainly some of the things General Musharraf has written are blunt. Like his claim that the CIA paid millions of dollars in bounty for al-Qaeda suspects.

Or the charge that the Americans had threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if it didn't join the "war on terror".

Such revelations are unlikely to do much to change the anti-Americanism of many Pakistanis. But could they affect the president's strategic alliance with the Bush administration? Mr Ziauddin thinks not.

Indian book store selling General Musharraf's book
The book has been selling briskly

"I don't think he can damage the relationship with the US as long as Mr Bush is there," he says. "I see a kind of equation between the two, perhaps intellectually, and the personalities are almost the same."

But Gen Musharraf's potentially most explosive indiscretions are about Pakistan's conflict with India over Kashmir.

As chief of staff in the late 1990s he led the army into Kargil on the Indian side of the disputed territory. It was widely seen as an ill-judged adventure that rallied the world against Pakistan, which withdrew under American pressure.

In his book, the president hails Kargil as a stroke of genius.

'Self-serving agenda'

Such a claim has outraged Delhi, and added fuel to renewed charges that Pakistan's intelligence forces were behind the July bomb attacks in Mumbai (Bombay).

In sum, the autobiography is a work of "tall claims and feigned confidence", presenting President Musharraf as an indispensable leader, editorialises the Daily Times in a review of the book.

Gen Musharraf reading out excerpts from his book
Gen Musharraf says the US threatened to bomb Pakistan

"The bad news is that there cannot be a more self-serving agenda... the good news is that [the book] will not have any good or bad impact because he is quite transparent in word and deed. So why begrudge the general a couple of million dollars in book sales?"

Back at the store, one punter begrudges the fuss being caused by what all agree has been a pretty slick public relations campaign. And no, he is not going to buy the book.

"I don't think Musharraf is a very interesting person, so I'm not interested in what he has to say," he says.

"He's the president, and he's toeing the American line, so it's not surprising that it's on the bestseller list and doing well."

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