Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, survivor of two recent assassination attempts, was in good form last week when he attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In an interview with Newsweek-Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth, the 60-year-old general charged that al Qaeda was behind the attacks and pledged to crack down on extremists operating in Pakistan. Musharraf denied that Pakistanwas selling its nuclear know-how or technology to such nations as Iran and Libya, despite multiple reports to the contrary. And he spoke at length about turning a new page in Pakistan’s tense relations with neighboring India.
Who carried out the assassination attempts?
The people who executed them are local extremists. One has to find out who passed the orders: Indications are that al Qaeda is involved. We have rounded up all those who planned and executed the operation. We have to find out who gave the orders in al Qaeda.
Have you decided that groups like Jaish-i-Mohammed [a Pakistani-based terrorist group] are a danger to you and to Pakistan?
We have already shut them down. Jaish-i-Mohammed is banned, but there are groups with links to Jaish-i-Mohammed. Anyone involved in them is being arrested.
Reportedly, the attempts on your life could not have taken place without the participation of your military or your police. Could you comment?
This is not a banana republic. Our military is extremely disciplined. Every commander is on board with me. . . . A very low-level person in uniform was possibly involved but no one at an officer level.
Is the U.S. assisting you in finding those who attacked you?
Our own intelligence operations have produced excellent results, but we are being assisted by other intelligence resources.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri actually threatened your life, didn’t he?
Yes, and the start of the planning [for the assassination] coincided with that.
What do you expect to come out of your talks with India?
Confidence-building measures are going on. The two foreign offices are interacting to decide on the venue, the date and the level of the contact.
In the past, Pakistan used to say that all agreements with India had to wait until the Kashmir issue had been resolved. Has this changed?
I have never said anywhere that we need to have a Kashmir agreement before anything else. I have always maintained that we should move simultaneously on all issues. The problem before was that Kashmir was never included. Now there is a change. For the first time, the joint statement [issued by India and Pakistan after their most recent round of talks] recognizes Kashmir as a dispute to be resolved. It recognizes that Pakistan is a party to the dispute. So, this is the source of my optimism.
How will you persuade the Indians that you will not allow Pakistani territory to be used by jihadi groups to cross the Line of Control [which separates Pakistani and Indian forces in the Kashmir region]?
I never said we crossed the Line of Control. . . . Let’s close this chapter.
Could you clarify your position on whether a plebiscite is required in Kashmir, which has traditionally been Pakistan’s position?
No unilateral action can be taken. I have been saying that we must go beyond stated positions and show flexibility. But it can’t be done unilaterally by Pakistan. So, there is reciprocity involved.
Have you put down new rules to stop nuclear technology transfers to rogue countries such as Libya, as Pakistan has been charged with doing in the past?
Pakistan has not at all been charged. Some individuals in Pakistan and also some Europeans have been charged. It started with Iran giving the names of some individuals who helped them get nuclear designs or whatever they had. These names included some Pakistanis and a number of Europeans. I got [the list] from the IAEA [the International Atomic Energy Agency] and then we started our investigation. We discovered there is an underworld of people who have been manufacturing. Most of them come from Europe.
Have you actually put in place new controls on technology transfers?
Yes. There are strong custodial controls in Pakistan and there is no possibility of a leakage. Before, there was a covert program for maybe 30 years, and there was a lot of autonomy given to the organization and individuals running the program. There was a lot of chance for leakages. Now it’s no longer covert. It’s overt. We are a nuclear and a missile state. And there are total custodial controls and an intelligence organization and a number of rings around our establishment to ensure prevention of any leakage. There is no question of leakages any more from our side.
Reportedly, Pakistan is one of the biggest proliferators in the world.
It is not Pakistan. These are individuals and our investigation has concluded that no government of Pakistan # and I don’t have a soft spot for the governments of [former prime ministers] Benazir [Bhutto] and Nawaz [Sharif] # sanctioned or authorized anyone to proliferate. There are individuals whose names have come up.
There’s a new sort of threat taking shape, isn’t there? Now when we talk about proliferation, we may be talking about something as simple as someone selling the phone number of a contact who has the design for a uranium enrichment centrifuge.
We are investigating whatever our scientists are involved in. When it’s a question of knowledge or the know-how to build a centrifuge, it’s in the mind of a person or in diagrams that can be carried in a briefcase or in a pocket. If it’s in the mind of a person, you can’t intercept it.
Recently, you announced you would step down as army chief of staff and remain Pakistan’s president. Why?
I always thought some day or other I had to remove the uniform. I felt that I needed to show flexibility in terms of stabilizing the political atmosphere.
Do you think you made a mistake by banning the main secular parties?
No parties have been banned. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are outside the country. Benazir is outside by her own choice # no one sent her out and she is not returning, by her own choice. Nawaz Sharif went out through an agreement with Saudi Arabia. He went laughing and smiling. Both are not allowed to contest elections because according to a constitutional amendment, you cannot be prime minister for the third time, and they have looted and plundered the nation and brought it close to disaster.
The Afghans charge that the Taliban are using Pakistan as a base.
There are elements on the Pakistani side. In one of our tribal agencies, South Waziristan, there are al Qaeda and Taliban supporters. We are operating against them.
How do you feel about the government of [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai?
It is the hope for the future. Under the circumstances, Karzai is doing well.
Many feel that a government that is as non-Pashtun as Karzai’s will never be able to govern Afghanistan.
If you read the history of Afghanistan, never for other than a few days has Afghanistan been ruled other than by Pashtuns. They are a majority of 50 percent. Tajiks are only 10-15 percent. We are proponents of democracy. How can a democracy function if 50 percent does not dominate?
So Pashtuns should have more power in Afghanistan?
Certainly, or it will be nonfunctional.
What is your assessment of the U.S. operation in Iraq and its aftermath?
We must ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq. It would affect the region and indirectly Pakistan if the territorial integrity is not ensured. The governance and the economic resources should be handed over to an Iraqi government as soon as possible.
You are very cool after these two recent attacks on your life. What is your reaction to the events?
I don’t believe in taking impulsive decisions. One has to absorb shocks and then take balanced decisions.
So what is your decision?
We have to go after whoever perpetrated this act and after religious intolerance, or whatever the sources of the extremism are. That is what we are doing. We need to operate strongly against al Qaeda and against the banned extremist parties.
Weren’t Jaish-i-Mohammed and other groups given pretty free license to operate in Pakistan and to cross into Kashmir previously? Weren’t they looked on as freedom fighters?
We always say that what is happening in Kashmir is a struggle for freedom # but let us leave that behind. Whenever anyone asks me now, while rapprochement with India is going on, [I say] let’s not talk of cross-border terrorism, let’s leave that behind and focus on the future. We have been playing this blame game in the past but let’s leave it to the past.
Will you run for president in the elections scheduled for 2007?
I’m not a politician. I don’t think it’s in me. . . . There is a lot of time.
So when you go return to Pakistan, will you pursue al Qaeda?
We have been doing so since the start.
Isn’t your army now operating in the North-West Frontier Province # in places it has never gone before?
Yes. The Pakistan army, and the British, never went there for over a century. This is the first time that we have entered these areas.
Where is Osama bin Laden?
I think he might be on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, giving him the opportunity of crossing and re-crossing.
Do you think al Qaeda is on the run or very active?
Surely, they are on the run. They are hiding. They don’t have contact or communication with each other any more.
After these attempts on your life, you must have said, “Enough is enough.”
Yes, indeed, but these people are not overt, they are not roaming around the street saying, “I am a member of the Jaish or another jihadi group.” All our law enforcement agencies are hunting the extremists down and many arrests have been made. We have to get to their leaders.
Do you know the brains behind the operations?
We don’t know that yet.
Yes. I know there are some Arabs involved # some non-Pakistanis. Al Qaeda comes mostly from the Arab world. . . . We are sure that one person got an instruction from an individual who was a non-Pakistani. We don’t have that man. When we get him, he will tell us who ordered him to do it. Maybe it was Zawahiri.