Yale School of Management

Washington Post’s Bob Woodward Talks with Pervez Musharraf, Former President of Pakistan

Leaders Forum

When it comes to international affairs, “one should approach problems with an open mind, with sincerity and flexibility,” said General Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, at an event at the Yale School of Management on April 24.

The Leaders Forum event was co-sponsored by the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and the Global Network for Advanced Management. Musharraf, who staged a coup in 1999 to become president of Pakistan, resigned in 2008 and was indicted in 2013 for his alleged role in the 2007 assassination of his rival Benazir Bhutto. He is currently awaiting trial but was permitted to travel abroad in 2016 for medical treatment.

He spoke with Bob Woodward, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his reporting for the Washington Post, with Carl Bernstein, that contributed to the resignation of Richard Nixon. Woodward, who is now the Post’s associate editor and a lecturer in Yale’s Department of English, pressed the former Pakistani leader on topics that included U.S.-Pakistan relations, continuing tension between Pakistan and India, conflicts in Afghanistan, and the unique foreign policy challenges presented by President Donald Trump.

Speaking about relations with the United States, Musharraf said that it’s important that Pakistan not be overlooked as a strategic ally in fighting terrorism, especially given the country’s location between Iran, Afghanistan, China, and India—each a country, he said, of special significance to the United States. He noted that every nation has “interests and sensitivities,” and as such should not be micromanaged, even by a superpower.

He also criticized the U.S. for trying to run Afghanistan with a minority government and accusing Pakistan of not doing enough to counter extremism. “The way terrorism is going…anything is possible. There are terrorists in Pakistan. There is no doubt about it. But mainly the base of terrorists around the world—between Al Qaeda, or ISIS, or the Taliban—is Afghanistan. However, certainly, they have links in Pakistan. So something happened, and if there was some training going on from Pakistan, that shouldn’t [make people] infer that Pakistan is the rogue country. That is where we go wrong.” He denied having had knowledge of Osama bin Laden hiding in Pakistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Musharraf did have praise for U.S. diplomacy during the near-disastrous conflict between India and Pakistan in 2002. “[Former Secretary of State Colin Powell] used to ring me up every second or third day cooling me down,” Musharraf said. “I think I give all the credit to him.”

Musharraf, who fought in the 1965 and 1971 wars between Pakistan and India, expressed frustration about his hopes for peace between the two nations. “We can’t go to war—we are both nuclear,” he said. “So what is the non-military solution? Economic strangulation? International isolation? Weaken their army? Internal destabilization? This is what the plan is. So how do we counter it? So let’s be very frank. We must have peace in the interest of both India and Pakistan. Genuinely, I believe in peace, but it cannot be one-handed.”

Woodward quoted Trump as saying that “real power is…fear,” and asked Musharraf if he agreed. The general replied that the definition depends on which side you’re on: “When you are the stronger side, real power would be humility. When you are the weaker side, the real power is to put the fear of God in the stronger one’s mind—[to say,] ‘We won’t take any nonsense from you...’  But may I suggest to the United States, yes, indeed, humility would be power.” He expressed optimism, though, in regard to Trump’s role in navigating foreign policy, in that Trump is “uninitiated” on the subject and can therefore learn with a clean (and presumably neutral) slate.

Although Pakistan is a nuclear state, Musharraf said he believes that the power that U.S. and Russian presidents have to launch nuclear weapons is inappropriate and dangerous. He praised the checks the Pakistani constitution enforces so that one person cannot make the decision to begin a nuclear war. Still, said Woodward, “Somebody told me that Pakistan has 100 nuclear weapons, maybe more. Isn’t that too many?”

“To an extent, I would agree that even one is too many,” Musharraf replied. “I think if anyone uses a nuclear bomb, he should commit suicide after that. He should leave the world himself. There is a targeting policy, and there is an employment policy, that we have created ourselves—and according to that, it is not too many.” Woodward noted that Pakistan nevertheless keeps its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent. “We have it as a deterrent,” Musharraf replied. “But I have a different theory of deterrence. My theory of deterrence is not that the [mere] possession of force is deterrence; the intent to use that force is the real deterrence. The enemy should know that maybe I’m mad enough to use them.”

Musharraf said he would run for office again if he thought it would benefit Pakistan, but not to satisfy his own ego. Asked what the Pakistani people need now, Musharraf said, “The core issue: good leadership. From that flows good governance, and many say good governance has to be corruption-free and nepotism-free. If you can manage this, Pakistan has all the resources and all the potential to stand on its own feet, be self-reliant and progressive.”

About the Event

Please join us on Monday, April 24 for “The Future of U.S.-Pakistan Relations: A Conversation with General Pervez Musharraf, Former President of Pakistan.” The talk will be moderated by Bob Woodward YC ’65, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and associate editor at the Washington Post. This  event is sponsored by the Dean’s Office and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. The Leaders Forum brings the heads of organizations from across all sectors to Edward P. Evans Hall for discussions about the challenges and opportunities of leadership.

This event is open to the Yale Community.

The event will start promptly at 4:15 p.m. For security reasons, the doors will shut promptly at 4:15 p.m. and late arrivals will not be allowed. Doors will open at 3:30 p.m.. Please make sure to arrive in plenty of time to be seated by 4:00 p.m. and do not forget to bring your registration confirmation email and your Yale ID.

For security reasons large items, including umbrellas, will not be allowed in the auditorium. Umbrellas may be left outside. Please leave your backpacks at home, as bags may be subject to search. Laptops may not be open during the talk. Attendees are asked to please remain in their seats until the event concludes at 5:15 p.m.

Event tags


General Pervez Musharraf

Former President of Pakistan

General Pervez Musharraf occupied what TIME magazine described as "the most dangerous job in the world". As President of Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, he played a crucial role in fighting the global war on terrorism; the role that he played with...

General Pervez Musharraf occupied what TIME magazine described as "the most dangerous job in the world". As President of Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, he played a crucial role in fighting the global war on terrorism; the role that he played with incredible courage, surviving more than a few assassination attempts and he still remains a target by those who want to see the world divided as "WEST ANDTHE REST ". General Musharraf fought two wars against India in 1965 and 1971 and was involved in all other skirmishes with India. He strongly believes in peace with dignity and honor in the region and rapprochement with India. He is quoted as saying that "he is a man of war, but a man for peace, as he experienced the ravages of war." In the course of his nine years at the helm, General Musharraf empowered the people of Pakistan at the grass roots level by introducing a local government system. In his country, he empowered women and unlocked the freedom of expression. Perhaps his biggest achievement was the turnaround of an almost bankrupt state in 1999; he and his government helped Pakistan come off the list of Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). On the world stage, the President strongly believes in "Enlightened Moderation", his vision for the Muslim world is to shun militancy and extremism and adopt the path of socioeconomic uplift; while the West,and the United States in particular, should seek to resolve all political disputes, especially Palestine and Kashmir, with justice and to aid in the socioeconomic betterment of the deprived Muslim world. General Musharraf's vision for Pakistan is for it to be transformed into a progressive, moderate, and prosperous Islamic State.

Bob Woodward

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and associate editor at the Washington Post

Bob Woodward is an associate editor of the Washington Post, where he has worked since 1971. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, first in 1973 for the coverage of the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein, and second in 2002 as the lead reporter...

Bob Woodward is an associate editor of the Washington Post, where he has worked since 1971. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, first in 1973 for the coverage of the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein, and second in 2002 as the lead reporter for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has authored or coauthored 18 books, all of which have been national non-fiction bestsellers. Twelve of those have been #1 national bestsellers. His most recent book, "The Last of the President’s Men", was published by Simon & Schuster in October 2015. Bob Schieffer of CBS News has said, “Woodward has established himself as the best reporter of our time. He may be the best reporter of all time.” In 2014, Robert Gates, former director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense, said that he wished he’d recruited Woodward into the CIA, saying of Woodward, “He has an extraordinary ability to get otherwise responsible adults to spill [their] guts to him...his ability to get people to talk about stuff they shouldn’t be talking about is just extraordinary and may be unique.” Gene Roberts, the former managing editor of the New York Times, has called the Woodward-Bernstein Watergate coverage, “maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time.” In listing the all-time 100 best non-fiction books, Time Magazine has called All the President’s Men, by Bernstein and Woodward, “Perhaps the most influential piece of journalism in history.”