Whatever you might think of President Pervez Musharraf, you have to admit he’s a good performer. Whenever I have seen him deliver a speech or stage a press conference, I have been struck by his self confidence and easy, jocular manner.
But very occasionally, the mask slips. I have just come from the Royal United Services Institute on Whitehall, where Musharraf was speaking earlier this afternoon. For almost the entire occasion, he was his usual charming self.
Then a Pakistani journalist, Mohammed Ziauddin, asked a perfectly reasonable question about how a prominent suspected terrorist, Rashid Rauf, had somehow escaped the custody of Musharraf’s security forces.
As soon as Ziauddin, the Islamabad editor of Dawn, a Pakistani daily, rose to ask his question, Musharraf visibly bristled.
Instantly, his demeanor changed from being relaxed and confident to tense and hostile.
Musharraf promptly accused Ziauddin of “casting aspersions” and “undermining our forces and your own country”. In a brief but furious tirade, he questioned Ziauddin’s patriotism and professionalism.
This disgraceful response to an entirely reasonable query spoke volumes about Musharraf. He will question the patriotism of any Pakistani critic – betraying his essential intolerance of dissent.
I wonder whether Musharraf would have responded with such rage had a British journalist asked precisely the same question?
I suspect he would have answered firmly but politely. Musharraf treats his fellow Pakistanis with contempt while oozing charm for the benefit of foreigners.