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The no-show

By Carol Grisanti, NBC News producer

"We are ready," Mustafa Mandokhail, the deputy managing director of Pakistan Television (PTV) told me as he escorted me onto the set.

And indeed they were. Even the purple tulips were in place, neatly arranged in vases flanking the mauve and rose-colored leather sofa where Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would sit for his interview with Brian Williams.

Image: Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf."Are you satisfied?" he asked me.

"Yes," I responded, "It looks very nice."

I did think there was a little too much mauve for my taste, and wondered if I should ask him to at least change the tulips.

"We will provide two live cameras," Mandokhail said as he continued the tour, "to give a variety of shots of the president."

"May I also bring my own camera?" I asked. We wanted to record on site as well.

"No problem."

Mandokhail couldn't have been more accommodating.

There would be a wide-screen TV monitor for the president to see Brian on the return video link. The interview, a worldwide exclusive for NBC News and the first interview Musharraf would give after Monday's parliamentary elections here in Pakistan, was scheduled for 11:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday, which is 9:00 p.m. in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Tulips aside, we were ready to go.

Then my phone rang. It was Rashid Qureshi, Musharraf's spokesman.

The interview was canceled!

"WHAT?" I couldn't believe what he was saying. "Rashid, you can't be serious," I said, trying to remain calm. "It will look like he is running away." "Besides," I said, "everything is set to go. It's too late to back out now."

Qureshi, a retired major general, is a charming man. I have known him for seven years. We first met after Sept. 11, when he was the chief spokesman of the Pakistani army in addition to being Musharraf's spokesman. He retired from the military a few years ago but Musharraf needed him and brought him back last year. But still, he can't always hold sway with the boss. Musharraf, a former commando, had just decided he didn't want to do any TV. And that was that.

"I know, I know," Qureshi said, trying to pacify me. "Just give me some time and we will work this out. I want him to do it." he said "Let me talk to him again and call you back in a couple of hours."

That sounded pretty final to me. The interview was off.

It was now 2:30 p.m. in Islamabad, 4:30 a.m. in New York. I agonized over whether or not to wake up Subrata De, Brian's producer. I justified calling by telling myself that Subrata would want to know no matter what time it was - and she would want to stop the technicians who would soon be on their way into the NBC studios to set up and prepare for the interview. Subrata came out of her sound sleep in a matter of seconds and chatted with me like it was the middle of the afternoon.

"I think he knows Brian will ask him if he is going to resign," I said, "and he doesn't want to 'go there' on American television."

"I had a feeling he might cancel," she said.

I enlisted some of Musharraf's friends to weigh in and try and convince him to do it. No one called me back. Qureshi called again.

"Give us some time," he said. "He (Musharraf) wants to wait until the official results come out. He will do it in the next 24 hours."

"The most frustrating in all of this," I said, "is that he did do the [Wall Street] Journal and that's really not very fair."

"I told him that," Qureshi said. " I told him you were quite upset and NBC had spent a lot of money with all the technical arrangements."

Musharraf had agreed to do two interviews immediately following Monday's parliamentary elections in Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal interview would be embargoed until NBC's Nightly News went off the air at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Brian was supposed to have the post-elections worldwide exclusive.

In Monday's parliamentary elections, Musharraf's ruling party suffered a humiliating defeat. Even though Musharraf wasn't running for office - he already got himself re-elected as president for another 5 years last October - the vote was seen as a rejection of his presidency and his policies. Almost every one of his loyalists has been routed from office. The opposition parties are calling for him to resign.

Whatever Musharraf is feeling after the elections, it is much easier for him to mask those feelings in a print interview. Once the cameras are turned on, every hesitation on his part in giving an answer, every facial emotion - even averting his eyes for a few seconds away from Brian in the TV monitor in front of him - can be interpreted in a negative way by a worldwide audience.

This morning, the front page of a leading Urdu newspaper: " Musharraf gives interview to NBC News and the Wall Street Journal on the election results." I guess word hadn't trickled down that Musharraf had backed out on us.

I called Qureshi. He said he would call me back in a few hours with some news. He hasn't.

I just sent him a text message. "NBC is awake now. It's 7:05 a.m. in New York," I typed. "What am I going to tell them?"

Still no answer from the presidential camp.