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In the Line of Fire: A Memoir Hardcover – September 25, 2006

3.7 out of 5 stars 152 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Pervez Musharraf has been the president of Pakistan since 1999. As a 4-year old, he moved to Karachi upon the partition of India and creation of Pakistan, and his lifespan and career has been tied to the life of his country ever since. After attending Pakistan's military academy he became a commando in the elite Special Services Brigade, fighting in the wars with India in 1965 and 1971. He rose through the ranks to become General and Chief of Army Staff in 1998. He became president in a dramatic confrontation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and has remained in office despite two assassination attempts.

From The Washington Post

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military president, is a contradictory figure: a dictator convinced that he's the best hope for democracy, a moderate Muslim reluctant to confront fundamentalists, a powerful man who exudes confident aplomb but suffers from lifelong insecurity as a migrant in his own land.

In the Line of Fire, Musharraf's English-language memoir, is an equally contradictory effort to explain himself to a Western world that largely views Pakistan as a fount of Islamist terrorism, a potential nuclear threat and an impoverished, military-ruled desert in the sullen shadow of shining, democratic India. In pursuit of international absolution, Musharraf -- who seized power in 1999 -- devotes many pages to his vision of a modern Pakistan, his values as a soldier, his disillusionment with corrupt civilian leaders, his efforts to seek peace with India and his contributions to the war on terrorism.

Last month, he launched an extraordinary pre-publication charm offensive in New York and Washington. The bespectacled general bantered easily with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" and earned an impromptu sales boost from President Bush after a joint White House press conference. ("Buy the book," a smiling Bush told reporters.) But before it hit the stores, In the Line of Fire had been dissected by a wide array of critics. In the United States, Musharraf kicked up a storm by accusing a former deputy secretary of state, Richard L. Armitage, of threatening to bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age" in the wake of 9/11 if it chose al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts over the United States. (Armitage has acknowledged the stark tenor of his message but flatly denied making such a military threat.) In India, outraged critics focused on Musharraf's description of a summit with India, where he charges that its then-prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, backed out of an agreement over the disputed territory of Kashmir because mysterious higher powers had overruled and "humiliated" Vajpayee.

But the worst vitriol came from Pakistan itself, where some critics trashed the book as a self-serving rewrite of history that betrays the nation's interest. For example, Musharraf goes to great lengths to prove that Pakistan's 1999 invasion of the mountainous Kargil district of Kashmir, a political and military disaster, was a triumph that will someday be "written in golden letters." Others expressed outrage at Musharraf's excoriation of A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist who is believed to have sold nuclear know-how to pariah regimes such as Iran, North Korea and Libya but who remains a hero to many Pakistanis. Musharraf, under heat from Washington over Khan's activities, portrays him here as a greedy rogue who somehow managed to hide all his evil deeds from the government.

Many of the negative notices ring true. Alternately coy and candid, Musharraf glosses airily over unanswered questions, denies widespread reports that leaders of Afghanistan's Taliban movement are operating inside Pakistan and portrays himself as staunchly opposed to Islamic fundamentalism, even though he has backed off on many reforms in deference to radical clerics. Even when expressing noble sentiments, Musharraf can undercut his message with clumsy insults and undiplomatic observations that might have been better left unsaid. (After all, how do you edit a dictator?)

But despite its limits as a window into history, In the Line of Fire offers valuable insights -- sometimes intentionally, sometimes not -- about an important U.S. partner in the war on terrorism whose powerful, secretive military-intelligence apparatus was once the Taliban's chief patron.

At some points, the story is gripping simply because the author was at the center of it. Much has been written about the coup that brought Gen. Musharraf to power after then-president Nawaz Sharif tried to fire him while he was on a commercial plane heading home from a foreign trip. Now, we are finally in the cockpit of the fuming general's plane as his pilot is ordered not to land -- even though the craft has only moments of fuel left.

The most compelling episodes are the operations launched to hunt down al-Qaeda operatives and suicide bombers, especially after two attempts on Musharraf's life in 2003. The dutiful reader is snapped to attention by dramatic chases that read like a thriller, full of fascinating details that only an insider would know -- and perhaps outsiders should not. For instance, Musharraf reveals that, during various operations, Pakistani agents have found a piece of shirt collar from a suicide bomber and traced it to his hometown tailor, used an elaborate system to track cell phone use among suspects, and covered themselves in burqas to shadow and snatch a major al-Qaeda figure.

In Musharraf's zeal to prove his counterterrorist bona fides, he exaggerates the importance of some captives and gloats over successful missions, clearly enjoying the experience of calling Bush in May 2005 to say Pakistan has captured an al-Qaeda leader, Abu Faraj al-Libbi. (Musharraf then undiplomatically calls Libbi "the one al Qaeda operative whose name Bush knew, apart from Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.")

The book also airs some military dirty laundry that may infuriate Musharraf's own institutions. The general acknowledges hurt and bewilderment at being passed over for promotions early in his career, much as he confesses to schoolboy pranks and slights of a half-century ago after his family fled India during the chaotic partition that created Pakistan in 1947.

In his writing, as in many of his public comments, Musharraf can prove both his own best salesman and his own worst enemy. Still, this memoir tells us a great deal about a military Muslim leader we need to understand -- and about a country to which we should have been paying much more attention.

Reviewed by Pamela Constable
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (September 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743283449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743283441
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Upfront disclosure - I'm a 33 year old Indian male living in the US, and I'm generally going to focus on the strengths of the book. And the 4 stars is for content and ability to hold interest, mine atleast.

Of all the dictators on the planet, surely Musharraf leads one of the most fascinating and dangerous lives. And how often does a ruling dictator write an accessible book? It makes for fascinating reading if only to gain a perspective not available on CNN or other news source. Musharraf is clearly an extremely talented, shrewd and for the most part cogent writer that understands his place in the delicate balance of American anti-terrorism efforts and escalating domestic and to some extent Islamic-world discontent at his handling of the war against terror and the aftermath of AQ Khan's misdeeds. The book illustrates the somewhat absolute influence of the Pakistan army over civilian lives and decisions as well as the alarming possibility that it may be difficult for even Musharraf to exert complete control over miscreant elements within it. Musharraf himself may be trying to curb the extent of the army's influence in domestic life now and probably because he realizes the very instrument that allowed him to get power may end up destroying him and any hope of a workable detente with India. It also highlights the flaws in simplistically poking holes in Pakistani domestic and foreign policy without gaining an understanding of the knife-edge on which Musharraf himself operates.

The book of course has its flaws. From the self-promotion, to the egregiously erroneous account of Kargil compared to neutral observers and journalists, to the obvious focus on events and details of events that establish a clearly biased position...

Regardless, it is a fun book to read for anyone that cares about the sub- continent and the people that shape it.
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Format: Hardcover
Whether President Musharraf's book is full of lies or not, we'll never know for sure but I can say one thing for sure - it is one of the most gripping books I have read this year. He gives a very detailed account of all the critical things that have hapenned in Pakistan politics in the last 10 or so years starting with the Kargil conflict. It is as expected a very accessible reading, almost conversational in style. His writing has a distinct lack of guile and he is not afraid to discuss highly controversial issues such as his military coup or his decision to not give up his military powers in 2004 as he had earlier promised. His explanations though are not always convincing. If you like mystery novels, you would love the chapters where he explains in detail how Pakistan's intelligence services tracked down and then arrested a number of most wanted terrorists. It's literally a day-by-day and in some cases (like the chapter on his military coup) a minute-by-minute detail of events. Once you pick it up, you won't be able to put it down.

What I don't like about the book is its annoying and overdone bravado, numerous repititions (sometime ridiculous to the point that even the same page is pasted in multiple places to describe the same event multiple times leaving the reader turning the pages to make sure he is not reading the same chapter again) and sometimes just way too much self-promotion. The fact that it is gripping doesn't mean that it is flawless. In fact it has a few major flaws and contradictions. What I find quite amusing is that Mr. Musharraf contradicts himself in so many places without ever noticing it. In the chapter on Kargil conflict, for example, most of the evidence he lays out in painstaking detail actually implicates Pakistan as the instigator.
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Format: Hardcover
Although I am an American, I have lived in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and have visited India. This is the main reason why I actually bought this book (looking at many of the reviews shows that many of the people who bought the book were either Pakistani or Indian).

To be honest, I believe that this book has to be taken with a grain of salt. Thats not to say this book is full of lies and deceit, but it is written by a head of state who is currently in power, and who wrote this book probably not least of all because there is a chance that he will not be able to step down from power alive.

Unlike many other "memoirs" that I read, I got the genuine feeling that Musharraf actually did a lot of work on this. This was, in part, due to the fact that the book wasn't written like a "proper" writer would write it. That increased my liking of the book significantly; it may not have been incredibly well written (it was well written, of course, but not Dan Brown well written), but it was deffinetly a good read.

Another thing I appreciated about this book was the background it gave. It wasn't just a propaganda-filled book spouting the superiority of Pakistan (although there was a tiny bit of that), but it actually showed what Musharrafs life was like. He wasn't like many "dictators". They all re-write their childhood to say what a marvelous life they had (or what a horrible life they had, and to show how they overcame immense odds to become great leaders). Musharraf speaks plainly about his childhood, and talks about many things other "dictators" would get rid of.
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