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October 22, 1999


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My brother, the general

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Shanthi Shankarakumar in Chicago

General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's new leader, must have been born with a lucky charm.

How else does one explain his escape not once, but twice, from the jaws of death?

The first time he played hookey with it was when he was passed over for a high-profile promotion over a decade ago. The second time happened when he outmaneuvered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief who sacked him when he was in Colombo and sought to stop him from coming back. But the general did not give in and the plane carrying him and other passengers landed in Pakistan with a just few minutes of fuel left.

Allah obviously had other things destined for General Mushrraf.

When Mushrraf's name came up for the prestigious post of military secretary during President Zia-ul-Haq's regime, his commanding officer refused to recommend Mushrraf's name "because he was not at home with pomp and show".

That decision probably saved his life because Zia-ul-Haq 's military secretary died with him in a helicopter crash in 1988.

The general's younger brother, Naved Musharraf, an anaestheologist based in Illinois, is grateful for the divine intervention. Besides, his fiercely individualistic brother would not have made a good military secretary, Dr Musharraf says.

"As military secretary, you have to be subservient to the President. My brother does not like to lose his independence. He is not afraid to challenge his superiors. He is a man of principles who sticks to them," said Dr Musharraf in a recent interview for

Allah continued to favor Pervez Musharraf when Nawaz Sharief selected him to be Chief of Army Staff last year, in place of Jehangir Karamat who was asked to resign after he proposed a stronger role for the army in the government. Many had expected Ali Quli Khan, Mushrraf's classmate in the military academy, to be the chief.

"My brother did pretty well in the military academy but he came second in his class. Ali Quli Khan, the man he superseded, was the top graduate and got the 'Sword of Honor'. Everybody including Quli Khan, thought he would be named Chief Of Army Staff last year, but Pervez superseded him," says Dr Musharraf.

Like many people of his generation, Pervez Musharraf's story too began in India.

He was born in 1943 in Delhi. The family consisting of his parents and three brothers, (the eldest brother is Javed), migrated to Pakistan soon after Partition. Since his parents were educated, starting all over was not a major problem.

The general's father is a graduate of Aligarh Muslim University and his mother passed out from Delhi's Indraprastha College with a master's degree in English literature. She came from a conservative Muslim family but had a progressive father.

"My grandfather was revolutionary because he sent all his four daughters, including my mother, to college... though his own wife, my grandmother, was illiterate," says Dr Musharraf.

When the family moved to Pakistan, his mother took up a job, again a step way ahead of her times while her husband joined the foreign service.

"We were not rich by any stretch of imagination but we were comfortable," said Dr Musharraf. His mother worked for many years as an office secretary. After retiring from the International Labour Organisation, she lives with her husband and son Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan.

In 1950 the family moved to Ankara, Turkey where the father had been posted. They were there for six years. The three boys were home-tutored by a German tutor who taught them in English. All three brothers can write and speak Turkish fluently.

Back in Karachi after six years, the boys attended St Patrick's, a convent school where they finished their matriculation. Their mother had imbibed her father's love for education and really pushed the boys to do their best. Javed, the eldest was the brain of the family, while Pervez was more interested in sports than studies. He was very good in mathematics though and, in the board exams, he got a hundred percent. But he did not do well in other subjects.

He was into athletics but cricket was a passion. He was also into bodybuilding in school and college. "He wanted to impress everybody," recollects Dr Musharraf with a laugh.

Pervez Musharraf completed his Intermediate Science from F C College in Lahore and then joined the military academy in 1962. He had always dreamt of joining the army. It was a perfect outlet for his outgoing personality, athletic skills and his budding leadership qualities. His rise to the top was a natural outcome of his shrewd tactical skills and undisputed leadership qualities.

"Even as a child he was outgoing and extroverted, with a large circle of friends. Friends were attracted to him because he was such fun," says Dr Musharraf.

The three brothers are very close though they are spread over the globe. The eldest, Javed, based in Rome, is an economist and is one of the Directors of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. He is the intellectual of the family.

"He can read all night," says Dr Musharraf. The brothers talk often to each other over the phone. More recently, Dr Musharraf spoke to the general after his televised address to the nation.

"I could not talk long to him because there were throngs of people in the house. I just wanted to ask him what the Pakistanis in the US could do to help out the country. He was not specific, but we did speak about financial help for Pakistan," said Dr Musharraf.

The brothers are not religious puritans and trace this to their progressive upbringing.

"We are nominal Muslims, in that we don't go to the mosque very often and neither do we pray five times a day. I don't know how to read the Quran and neither do my brothers," said Dr Musharraf. "My father is not a religious person too. We are all very secular. My brother believes that religion and state should be separate and that there is room for all religions."

Pervez Musharraf has retained some of the rebelliousness of his grandfather.

In an incident recalled by one of his former commanders to Associated Press, the officer recounts how Musharraf once wanted to invite a favorite singer, Iqbal Bano, for a concert at the officer's mess. But women were not allowed to enter the mess without the permission from the top commander. Musharraf persuaded his senior officer to call the top commander, who was on a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Permission granted, the singer performed in the mess.

In his personal life, General Musharraf is considered a bon vivant. He loves good food, old Hindi film songs and the ghazals of Mehdi Hasan and Noor Jehan. He used to enjoy old Hindi movies but now is into English movies.

He used to play golf, but now plays squash regularly. And he is not averse to putting on his dancing shoes. "He likes to dance to our traditional music, the kind we have at our weddings. When his children got married, we all had a good time," says Dr Musharraf.

Musharraf and his wife Sehba have one son and daughter, both in their late 20s and married. Sehba, according to a close family friend is "very pretty and smart". She is modern in that she does not wear the purdah but observes the rituals. Their son Bilal, went to a military high school in Pakistan and later went to the United States for higher studies. He lives in Boston and works as an actuary. Their daughter Ayla, has studied architecture and lives in Karachi with her husband and baby daughter. She helps him run his advertising agency. Adding to the cosmopolitan family is Dr Naved Musharraf's Filipino wife. The couple has two college-going sons.

The general takes his family duties as seriously as his army responsibilities. "He is a very caring family man, But, at the same time, he is very authoritarian and was quite rigorous in training his son. He made sure the boy took part in sports. Pervez laid emphasis on sports, and not so much on studies," says Musharraf.

While admitting that his brother was not a perfect human being, Musharraf refused to dwell on his brother's flaws.

"It would not be appropriate to say anything negative about him. I'm not being dishonest. I feel uncomfortable talking about that now, especially since he's still in a vulnerable position," said Musharraf.

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