Interview with Pervez Musharraf

Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf met with Monitor editors in Boston Sunday. Here are excerpts from his remarks.

CSM: Do you feel like Afghanistan is firmly on a path to produce greater stability on your border, or should the United States and the West be doing more?

Musharraf: I think the situation remains fluid. It's improving, but it remains fluid. We have to bring stability into Afghanistan, and that stability has not yet come...there are seven power centers in Afghanistan – seven or eight – which are dominated by warlords.

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The writ of the government has to extend to all these seven or eight power centers. And the warlords' writ in those areas needs to be reduced and the center's impact and stature needs to be enhanced...

Now, the reconstruction element has not even taken off. There is a Tokyo Accord which has promised I think $4 billion or $4.5 billion. But this assistance is not coming because ...probably [they are] looking for political stability in Afghanistan. But this is a chicken-and-egg situation. Do you want political stability first, and then bring money? Or, money itself will bring political stability?...We must inject this money, and give the Karzai government the clout to spend this money and extend their writ through allocation of funds to these power centers that I'm talking of...Pakistan is totally supportive of the Karzai government. Whatever he's doing, I think he's the hope for the future of Afghanistan.

CSM: What do you anticipate to be the reactions of the militant communities of the Muslim world, if the United States takes action in Iraq?

Musharraf: Short answer is yes, it will have a negative impact...

CSM: That sounds like it would be counterproductive to the war on terror. You have said the Iraqi fight is not your fight, but you are part of the war on the terror, and it sounds to me like you're suggesting that action in Iraq is going to make the war on terror more difficult. Is that true?

Musharraf: Well, I've been saying that we don't want to get involved in Iraq, because we've got so much on our hands really in our own region...that we don't want to really too much to get involved [elsewhere]. One would like to say that [in] the world community, consensus needs to be generated on whatever has to be done...But, certainly the agenda in Afghanistan is not over. I only hope that our involvement and commitment to Afghanistan and that region does not get diluted because of attention going somewhere else...

CSM: We know you have very good relations with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, and you will be meeting with him at the UN. But we've been hearing reports from the Afghan intelligence service that Al Qaeda has been in various pockets around Pakistan. They've named the cities of Gilgit and Chitral. What do you think is the next step for Pakistan to take in terms of getting rid of Al Qaeda in the region, and how soon do you think you can do it?

Musharraf: We are taking steps all over Pakistan...and we have made it very clear that we don't want any foreign element without valid documents in Pakistan. That includes Al Qaeda or any foreign element...

But many of these reports are exaggerated...we get information that there [are] some Al Qaeda elements hiding here and there, and we go and we launch an operation...and find nothing. So many reports are exaggerated...But in many areas we've met successes....we have recovered a lot of weapons, and I think we have arrested 400 Al Qaeda members...So it's disheartening when sometimes you read that we are going back, maybe we are going soft. No, we are acting fully....

I don't think there are elements in Chitral – it's being reported in Chitral and in Gilgit area. Whenever we get information we move against them.

CSM: You've checked out those places?

Musharraf: Yes, indeed.

Gilgit has headquarters of our frontier corps northern area. This is my division headquarters with a major general sitting there. I'd have a very poor impression of this army division if there were some members of Al Qaeda in his area operating there...

[In] the tribal belt of Pakistan...we could not intrude [until now]. The writ of government could not get inside. This is known as FATA, Federally Administered Tribal Area. [Troops have entered this area] for the first time in 150 years, maybe...

Now we are operating in that area, and the army has gone in in a humanitarian role. It is making roads there, it is running dispensaries and schools. Thousands of children are now studying in those schools. Hundreds of thousands of people have been treated [for] free.

[The troops]...are being welcomed by the tribal elders in this belt...Therefore, we are very sure that wherever there is Al Qaeda, we will get assistance and we will get information also. But, having said that, there may be some elements in this area, some extremist elements, who may be harboring small groups of Al Qaeda...

But whenever we get this information...we move. And the tribal elders go along with the troops now to ensure. And we've laid down certain rules and regulations of dealing with anybody who is harboring these people, according to tribal laws...their houses will be demolished and they have to pay a certain amount of money...if there is...any tribe harboring them, that tribe will suffer these penalties...

CSM: Do you think bin Laden is still alive?

Musharraf: [Laughter]

CSM: You mentioned a standoff with India. What do you see as the next steps necessary in Kashmir, and what progress do you see on the question of infiltration and incursions across the Line of Control? (Editor's note: The current Line of Control, established in 1972, divides Kashmir into two sections: the north controlled by Pakistan, the south by India.)

Musharraf: ...I have said many times, that there is nothing happening on the Line of Control. And I mean it. But having said that, it was very clear that this should lead to reciprocation, that this must lead to responses from the Indian side...I personally have taken a number of decisions, we have taken a number of actions – which have been very sensitive to our country, to myself, to my government, and the reciprocation has not come. No reciprocation whatsoever has come from the Indian side. This is unfortunate, and this is not sustainable...

So when you ask what progress can be made...India must accept that they need to talk to us, and they need to talk about all issues with Kashmir as the focus...And I would say that the United States is playing a role and they need to play a stronger role in realizing this progress on the issue of Kashmir between India and Pakistan....

CSM: Is India waiting for the US to verify that infiltration has fully stopped?

Musharraf: ...There cannot be a 100 percent guarantee of stopping infiltration. That guarantee is not possible because of the nature of the terrain there. But, everyone said, even the Indians themselves said that...infiltration has gone down, even though they didn't say that it has stopped.... Let's move forward, I keep saying. Let us not stop, let's move forward, let's initiate the dialogue, and things will keep moving forward.

I think their strategy is really to gain time...then, they want to hold elections in Kashmir. In whatever form they are going to declare them successful, and then they are going to say that: 'Kashmir dispute does not exist and that is all, thank you very much.' This is their strategy, probably, which is very clear to us.

Now the world must understand that this strategy will not work...so India should be told actually not to play games really, it can't be done...

CSM: There's some talk of a consideration of making the Line of Control permanent. Is that something that you would ever consider?

Musharraf: No, we can't take that. That is not a solution because we keep saying that is the problem...we have been fighting the wars over this Line of Control. So how can the problem be the solution?...

CSM: We understand you're trying to establish a new kind of democracy in Pakistan: you want clean candidates, clean government. From what you've seen so far, will that happen in this election? Will there be better candidates, better politicians?

Musharraf: Yes...there will be a lot of change in the faces that we will see in our assemblies and in the senate...With the imposition of the [university] graduation standard...41percent of the previously elected members have gone. They are disqualified....We have given women 60 seats, reserved seats. [They'll also fight for open seats], so hopefully there will be about 75 women in the assemblies to bring some kind of sobriety into the assemblies...

Now...what are we trying to do? I'm carrying out...constitutional amendments. Now theoretically, in the West, it appears rather odd that we have done that. But let me say that the Supreme Court authorized us to do it, and for very good reasons...

First...we need to ensure that there are checks and balances on the power brokers. We must ensure that...martial law is never imposed, and military government is never imposed on the country. We need to ensure that these reforms and restructuring that we are doing have permanence...and therefore...a sustainable democracy is brought in. So...I'm not taking power, I'm giving power, in fact...

I'm giving away that power to the national security council. Let an institution [m]ake the decision. Because...I think that this is the key to the issue –what had been happening in the past ...there was mis-governance, there was root plunder, corruption. Now what could an efficient president do? He could sort of reprimand the prime minister...But it always ended with that prime minister retorting...And a one-to-one confrontation between the president and the prime minister used to take place.

So the result used to be either the president getting rid of the prime minister, or the prime minister impeaching the president. Because of this sort of one-to-one fight between two individuals. And this happened I think thrice or four times in these 12 years. Every time a government changed, it was a president versus a prime minister. And the third element that used to get injected was the chief of army staff.

...The army in Pakistan is the most stable organization; [it] has the faith of the people of Pakistan. Whatever Pakistan suffers, the people run straight to the chief of army staff. "What are you doing? You take some action. You improve the situation..."

How does the chief of army staff act in the face of nothing?...He has two choices. He goes to the prime minister and he says, "You're not doing well and you'd better improve yourself..."

The second option he has is to take over. So, how to avoid that? We can avoid that through this institution, the national security council. I have not done it to take over myself. I have done it to check the prime minister, check the president, check the chief of army staff. Let them come and sit together. And this institution has 13 members. Eight of them are civilian elected members. The ninth is the president. Hopefully the ninth one will be a civilian person, and four will be in uniform. Now, all of these nine are elected members, so there will be a balance.

If the chief of army staff is being pushed by anybody that the nation is going down and the prime minister is misgoverning, he'll have this forum to come to...there will never be a need of imposing martial law...And if the president is unnecessarily doing something to the prime minister, the prime minister will have this forum to act, also. And when we say, "What is the check on the president?" the check on the president, first of all, will be the mandate of the legislature...It's not been removed. They can impeach him, exactly as it was before...

So the president cannot impose his will when there are seven or eight members of the national security council saying something else. So there will be, I think, a lot of checks and balances on every one.

CSM: Do you see a long-term role, a political role, for the military in the security council?

Musharraf: No. The security council, another important thing to be understood is, that they will not have, repeat, will not have any executive or legislative authority. Executive and legislative authority rests with the prime minister and the assembly...

So the entire authority lies with the prime minister. But there is a requirement of checking him...So we will have an institutional method of checks...

CSM: This is the fullest explanation we've had of the changes that you've made to date, and we appreciate it. But you know that most people are going to ask you, still, When is there going to be an election next? Have you decided on that? Before they say, "OK, now it's a democracy."

Musharraf: When are we going to have the election? The tenth of October we fixed it. The date is fixed, everything is fixed...

CSM: And if someone like Benazir Bhutto shows up?

Musharraf: No. She's been disqualified. This is another issue:...a lot of people keep talking about my acting against her. She left Pakistan on her own will before I was on the scene...there were a number of cases against her...[in two cases] she's been convicted... and there are 12 more cases I know of loot, plunder...So, she has to face trial if she comes back. And similarly, [the Nawaz] Sharif family...the ex-prime minister, they left of their own sweet will...and they are not coming.

CSM: Can we take you back to May of this year when India appeared to be threatening war with Pakistan, and your country does not rule out the first strike option, and you gave a speech in which you said that if India did attack, Pakistan would "respond with its full might." What was it like during those days? Was it tense?

Musharraf: Yes, it was extremely tense because there were war clouds and they appeared to be bent on attack[ing] us. But, let me honestly tell you that my military judgment was that they would not attack us... it was based on the deterrence of our conventional forces.

...The force levels that we maintain, in the army, navy, air force is of a level which deters aggression. Militarily ... there is a certain ratio required for an offensive force to succeed. The ratios that we maintain are far above that –far above what a defensive force requires to defend itself. Therefore, you may have noticed I keep saying that we are going to defend offensively, because we can launch an offensive also...

So I was very sure that militarily, conventionally, they are not going to attack us. It would be silly, because it's going to end in a stalemate. We are both going to suffer tremendous damage and loss unnecessarily, economic damage. It's going to be terrible for both the countries... The avoidance of war was not because of our banking on our nuclear capability. Let me assure you, I think it would be most senseless, and most unbalanced view if one was to even really think of using the nuclear...But thank God at the moment there is a conventional balance which deters aggression, which deters war in the region...

CSM: Do you feel the level of tension with India is as high as ever at the moment? Our impression here is that things have subsided, it's quieter, but there really hasn't been a massive pullback on either side. Is it as tense as ever?

Musharraf: No, it's not. But I, as a military man, we judge the enemy's intention – and here I mean the enemy is India, of course, as far as we are concerned – through intentions and capabilities. Now intentions, initially they were talking a lot and we knew nothing [would] happen, because the capability was not there. Their forces were not moved into their assemblies for offensive. But then gradually, come May, the forces moved forward. Now they developed the capability. So the high mark of India was when they were showing the intention, as well as the capability. Now, the intention has receded, but the capability is there. So, therefore, intentions can change overnight...

To a degree the capability has receded in that they've moved their high-tech assets back, air force, and some military units. But I keep saying when you take the aircraft back, aircraft can come back in 12 hours. It's the logistic support elements of the air force. And if you take some military elements back, unless you take the offensive military elements back, it's not de-escalating. So the Indians should know that they can't be clever on the military side. We understand everything that they are doing. They are moving some forces, but they are not really de-escalating.

CSM: What military assets will you be seeking from the United States now that sanctions have either been phased out or will be phased out? What will you be seeking in terms of military assistance and what is your rationale for what you are seeking?

Musharraf: Yes, indeed, as a military man, I think it is a very important question. As I've just said, conventional deterrence must never get compromised. Futuristically, it will be extremely dangerous if the conventional balance of forces is destroyed between India and Pakistan...We see that India is...chasing weapons worth four-and-a-half billion dollars this year...

[If they are successful], they are going to be the highest arms importers in the world...We are seeing that they are getting high-tech aircraft from Russia, from the United Kingdom, from France, and they are getting surveillance equipment [and] electronic warfare equipment from Israel also. So, gradually we are seeing a definite tilt in the conventional balance of forces. This is very dangerous. So, therefore, the United States must understand that this is dangerous and know what our requirements, certainly, would be to restore this conventional balance in two ways.

One, proactively deny India the access to this high-technology increase in their conventional potential. And secondly, whatever we were getting initially in the form of purchase of arms and – also may I add – F-16s, which we had paid for, in fact. That would be required to reestablish balance in the conventional forces.

CSM: Is your view that those F-16s were in fact not repaid? Because there are those in the US government who say that that was actually repaid when they were not delivered.

Musharraf: They were repaid after I don't know how many years and if I told you the whole story, I don't know if you'd believe it.

CSM: Paid in soybeans?

Musharraf: Yes, and wheat – and in the most expensive manner. The soybean that we got was much more expensive than we could have gotten from Malaysia, and elsewhere. The transportation cost was maybe double the cost.

In fact, there was a time when – you won't believe it – but the F-16s that were ours, we were told that 'You'll have to pay demerit charges for them' – parking fees for these F-16s. Why are you demanding parking fees from Pakistan? We are asking you for the F-16s! This is one of the issues which every man in the street in Pakistan knows...

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