Rory McCarthy and Luke Harding
Wednesday May 16, 2001
The Guardian: You have said before that sometimes as a leader it’s lonely at the top. Given the seemingly intractable nature of the problems that Pakistan seems to face do you ever regret having taken power?
General Musharraf: No never. First of all I didn’t take power, power was thrust on me. But I think as it stands with hindsight it was good for Pakistan that this happened. I do not regret it, because irrespective of how much pressure there is on me for Pakistan, one is prepared to do anything, to face any kind of hardships and face any kind of solitude. When I say “lonely” I mean really for any leader at any level there is an extent of loneliness on top because decision-making is an individual process, and the more you are supposed to take decisions the more alone you feel, because you can have a discussion all right – but as you go higher the decisions are that much more difficult. And therefore irrespective of any amount of discussion you have, the ultimate decision and its outcome rests on your shoulders. Therefore one is always apprehensive whether one has taken the correct decision in national interest or not. That remains an anxiety in one’s mind, I would say. That is why I said it is lonely but I don’t at all regret whatever is happening in Pakistan.
Do you intend to become president of Pakistan? If so, when would that happen? And who would you like to have as your prime minister under the civilian government that is coming in the future?
That is a very, very direct question which I wouldn’t be able to answer in such a direct manner, although I always believe in giving very, very direct answers. But this is one on which maybe I am unable to give a direct answer.
I just would say that on the political scene we are in the process of devolving power to the grass-root level in which this local government plan is going on very well on schedule. We then have to come on to the provincial aspects of politics, where we want to see maximum autonomy being given to the provinces and then we come to the centre.
Now, in the centre we have to ensure a few things. And these are that first of all there has to be continuity and sustainability of whatever we are doing. All the restructuring and the reforms that we are carrying out will not be reversed there is no doubt in my mind and I will go to any extent of ensuring that.
The second is that we have to ensure better provincial harmony and third is that we must ensure that national interest always remains supreme over government interest. And when I say government interest in Pakistan, unfortunately over the last decade – the decade of disaster, as I call it – government interest has been personal interest, unfortunately. It shouldn’t be like that but it has been. It has been personal interest of the leader, of the prime minister.
So we will ensure that national interest remains supreme over government interest if it conflicts with national interest. And lastly we would like to ensure that there is a balance of power between the power brokers of Pakistan. These are the elements of whatever we want to do.
And I will leave it at that, that now we haven’t taken any decisions and we are considering how to achieve these four – and if there is a role for me in achieving these four, I will have to take it on. Yes, I will have to. If it is in the national interest that I have a role to play in ensuring these four then I certainly won’t hesitate in playing my role.
There is another part of your question: who would I like to have as prime minister? First of all, prime minister will be elected by the people of Pakistan. There is no question of nomination of a prime minister.
Who would you not like as prime minister?
Well I certainly think that the two ex-prime ministers outside have no place for prime minister ship in Pakistan, none whatsoever.
The British government has made available a lot of documentation to do with Benazir Bhutto. Were you pleased that you finally got these papers from the British government and have they been useful evidentially?
Frankly there is such a voluminous paper. We are grateful to the British government that we got these papers. There are about nine or 11 crates filled with papers so it is not easy to go through them and really sift them and see their legal value so frankly I am not current on the subject. They are being studied. I wouldn’t be able to comment on how useful they are. I am sure they’ll be useful.
You clearly don’t feel that Benazir Bhutto has got any future role to play in Pakistani politics.
Well, certainly she has been prime minister twice and she has completely mismanaged the country and also corrupted the country. So therefore really I would like to ask her: has this nation ever given so much opportunity to anybody and that person failed twice and yet tries to come a third time to do the same? And she expects the people to repeat this folly?
If she does come back, which she has been threatening to do, my understanding is that she will be arrested because of the outstanding corruption cases against her. Is that correct?
Legal action will be taken against her, certainly, absolutely. She is accountable to this nation for all her misdeeds in her two tenures. She better answer them and certainly legal action will be taken.
Would you have a retrial in the SGS case after the supreme court decision?
Yes, certainly it will be retried. She is talking all around the place that she has been acquitted. She has not been acquitted. She is trying to create this misunderstanding and trying to project her innocence through the supreme court judgement. Unfortunately that is not the case. Any person who understands the judgement, who has gone through the judgement would understand it. She has not been acquitted at all. She is to be retried, absolutely – and I have no doubt in my mind that there is so much wrong in that case that they have done.
There is one other Pakistani politician in the UK at the moment, Altaf Hussain, who has just been given a British passport while he is facing several criminal cases in this country. What was your reaction when you heard the news?
I certainly wouldn’t say that I am too happy about it, because Britain must understand that such political asylums being given to people who maybe have worked against or are working against the interest of Pakistan should be given more serious thought before taking such action.
Will you make an effort to bring him back to Pakistan to face trial?
I haven’t given this a thought really. I don’t think he has any place in Pakistani politics. I would like to stabilise the political environment in Pakistan, and in this effort certainly Karachi and Sindh need the stability which is going on at the moment, so I don’t want to create waves in the waters at all.
NMD is very much a topic of the moment. Do you think NMD is a good idea?
Frankly, I think it will lead to resumption of nuclear and missile race. Pakistan really is not concerned but maybe indirectly it may get pulled into some kind of a response because this NMD by the United States I wonder what the response by China and Russia is going to be. And once that happens, and if we enter into a new nuclear missile race, I would like to see what the Indian response will be. And if that happens, then certainly we are drawn into the milieu. We haven’t considered to that extent but that is the indirect impact that it may have on Pakistan.
One of the interesting things has been the enormous enthusiasm from India for this scheme. What do you think of India’s sudden enthusiasm for NMD?
I think these are new geo-strategic developments in the region and Indo-US collusion – understanding, shall we say, not really collusion in this – and Indo-US warming up that is taking place. Although basically it appears it is for economic reasons. One has to see whether this develops further into a strategic relationship. If that happens now that is the area where one would see with a little bit of anxiety.
You have just had a successful visit from the Chinese prime minister. It does appear as if two distinct camps are emerging: India and the US are pro-NMD, and China, who are bitterly critical, and yourselves. Do you see things dividing down those lines or not?
I hope not. But Pakistan’s concern is very obvious. There is a strategic balance in the region. There has to be strategic balance universally and regionally. In the region there is a strategic balance. Now, if this strategic balance gets disturbed it certainly disturbs Pakistan. I only hope that this does not happen. We have very old relationships with the United States, in fact we have had a strategic relationship with the United States throughout our independence, the last 53 years.
So this strategic relationship ought to remain and it should not be disturbed. If it gets disturbed and if it gets disturbed, tilts in favour of India – which should not be the case, and the latest statements by the US government certainly is extremely balanced I would say in their attitudes towards the South Asian region which is very encouraging for Pakistan. So it would cause anxiety to us if this strategic balance was to tilt in favour of India but I only hope that the new US administration understands the implication of this strategic balance which requires to be maintained in South Asia.
But there has been no envoy from the Bush administration explaining the implications of this policy to Pakistan. Why do you think that is?
Well our foreign minister has been invited to the United States. I am very glad because we will be able to exchange views and project our views in the region and what is happening also domestically. I hope this paves the way for closer association between Pakistan and the United States and a closer understanding of our compulsions and anxieties.
And when I say closer, I mean closer than the Clinton administration, certainly. The people of Pakistan are laying a lot of hopes on the Bush administration and President Bush himself. Each and every individual Pakistani was in favour of his winning, each and every one. I don’t think there could be a single Pakistani who was against him I would say. He enjoyed the support of every Pakistani.
Why do you say that so confidently?
Generally it has been seen that Republican governments have been more balanced towards their approaches to the South Asian region and towards Pakistan. The previous administration, I would say, was drifting one-sidedly towards India and therefore there is hope and in the future one feels that the Bush administration will balance out this relationship. And the initial indications are very positive, and I look forward to this improved relationship. I hope the visit of our foreign minister will certainly balance out the visit of the Indian foreign minister to the United States and the United States’ under-secretary of state’s visit to India.
Since October 1999, you have spoken regularly about the devolution of power and the importance you place on trying to rebuild democracy from the bottom up, from the grass-roots level. How do you reconcile this with some of the actions that your government has taken – like the arresting of ARD protestors in Karachi and Lahore in the last few weeks, of the strong police reaction to the protests in Karachi over water shortages and then the less forceful approach to some of the demands by the religious groups staging sit-ins or road blocks demanding Shariah law, the closing of girls schools. How do you reconcile these two things with your calls for a rebirth of democracy in Pakistan?
There is no rebuilding of democracy, frankly – it is the building of democracy. There has never been true democracy in Pakistan, and I am very sure of that. I am saying this with all the strength of conviction that I have. There has never been democracy in Pakistan, real democracy, because democracy is certainly not having elected governments.
That is my sad observation on especially the Commonwealth leaders, who are more concerned with having elected governments functioning in a country and then least bothered about how that government is dispensing democracy in that country. The more important is how an elected government behaves, whether it is democratic in its dispensation. That is what is democracy.
I am very sad to say there is a total wrongly placed emphasis on elected governments and not then seeing how that elected government is behaving. That elected government and that elected prime minister may have been the biggest autocrat.
In Pakistan, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, he was elected. He was the biggest dictator of Pakistan. So we must see what is the environment in a country. If the Commonwealth is bothered about democracy, they must see: is there democracy in the country? Is the government democratic in its behaviour? It is dispensation and not just be satisfied with just an elected government, an elected prime minister and they are very happy.
I would say that I am not an elected man yes but there is democracy in Pakistan. I challenge anyone to dispute this, I challenge anyone from the Commonwealth to come and see the reality on the ground and then conclude whether there is democracy or no democracy here. So I would like to ask whether democracy is only an elected government and then autocratic rule or real democracy where power is with the people.
I am sorry for the longer answer. We are introducing democracy to Pakistan, real democracy at the grassroots level. So there is no reconciling. I was reconciled right from the beginning. On day one, when I gave my seven-point agenda, one of them was the devolution of power. That is what I am doing in this one and a half years. I haven’t changed at all. My stance is absolutely clear. There is devolution of power going on. It will be done because that is real democracy. I will bring it.
And actually, the so-called political forces in Pakistan with whom maybe the west or maybe the Commonwealth feel very at home and very happy, they are the ones who are not interested really in democracy, I am sorry to say. They are the ones who are opposing this real democracy in Pakistan, those who probably the Commonwealth would be happy with if they were elected and they were sitting in the assemblies.
Now I am changing all that and there is a devolution process going on. There is no reconciliation. We are totally convinced that real democracy has to be introduced in Pakistan in its true essence. That is what I am doing.
Now other irritants, these irritants of the ARD: frankly, I know for sure if I sit at home and sleep and I tell all the law-enforcement agencies go to sleep and don’t do anything, I am sure they won’t be able to have any support. They will be in some form or other, there will be a couple of hundred people around.
So why arrest 2,000 of them?
We have decided that there will be no outdoor political activity. The moment you allow this then we will start with all kinds of political activity outside by everyone.
But isn’t that the essence of democracy?
A: Yes it is. But at the moment until October 2002, the mandate given to us by the supreme court, the focus is very clear. I will not allow anything happening in Pakistan which disturbs us or which takes us away from our main aim. And the main aim is the revival of the economy of Pakistan, bringing good governance to Pakistan and the political restructuring we are doing.
We don’t want to get involved in running around on the streets and hooliganism on the streets. I am sorry again you are from the west, your perception is different. Maybe your processions are very well organised and they are very disciplined. Here, you allow 400 people they will break all the window panes, they will break all your street lights, they will break all the traffic lights, and this kind of activity is hooliganism.
So we need to learn to be more disciplined. So I wouldn’t like to allow any kind of activity which has a chance of distracting us from our main objective until October 2002. After that there will be an elected government which we will ensure is also democratic so there will be true democracy with an elected government and true democracy and then let political activity go on. We will allow it.
And what do you think of the religious groups? Are they an “irritant” too?
A: Religious groups are there, they have their point of view. Pakistan is an Islamic country. But I am very clear that Pakistan is a moderate Islamic country. There is not even 1% religious extremists. Ninety-nine per cent of Pakistanis are moderate, but unfortunately it is this 1% that holds the 99% hostage. I am not disturbed. I certainly am convinced that with the economic revival of Pakistan, with good governance in Pakistan being restored, these negative forces, whether they are religious or political, they will all remain under control. I am not really worried.
Everyone has a right to have his or her viewpoint. But quite clearly, the results of the local government which we are analysing, almost 40 districts in which elections have been held very clearly only about 1% of the people elected have some kind of affiliation with a religious organisation. That is the support they enjoy. It is very clear to me where they stand.
Can I ask about relations with India? You had a brief telephone conversation in January with Mr Vajpayee in the wake of the earthquake. What was your impression of him, and do you see any grounds whatsoever for optimism in relations with India?
I was very optimistic. Initial vibes that I was getting, that he was keen on taking bold action, he gave a statement on those lines, on disputes with Pakistan, on Kashmir. The telephone call was extremely cordial. It was friendly. I think it would be rather immature of us to start arguing on the telephone. It was friendly, certainly.
But I am disappointed, frankly, with the outcome of everything. Months have passed. Twice there have been windows of opportunity. Once last year when Hizbul Mujahideen declared a ceasefire and we got this window of opportunity to move towards serious dialogue and the resolution of disputes. Then again the window closed and we started back to normal confrontation.
And now this very serious window of opportunity again, where there is a ceasefire on the Line of Control which is holding on both sides, and the ceasefire that the Indians have declared – which is really a farce, there is no ceasefire there. It is a farce, absolutely. Watch Indian television, watch how many actions they are taking themselves and they are talking of ceasefire. What ceasefire? Every day there are actions there. It is just a farce for the consumption of the west, I think.
However, the ceasefire on the Line of Control is holding. Now, the Indians see the All Party Hurriyat Conference is keen that we move forward to a resolution of dispute. They are very adamant that Pakistan is a party and certainly Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris are party to the dialogue. You remove any one of them, peace is not possible.
So therefore we recognise India is a party and Kashmiris are a party. So therefore this window of opportunity is being wasted and such opportunities do not come by. So I am really doubtful what the Indians want. I really doubt their sincerity, I doubt their seriousness. I think they are trying to play games on gaining time. When they gain time their strategy is maybe to try to create a gulf between the Kashmiris and Pakistan and within Kashmiris themselves.
I am afraid this is a very short-sighted strategy. It will not function. It will not succeed. It will fail again and this region will remain as confrontationist as it was unfortunately. The ball is entirely in the Indian court. Soon as they realise this, the better it is.
And you would be prepared to go to Delhi at any stage without preconditions, were the invite to come?
Yes, I would be prepared to go. But if the Indians ever think that I am dying to go there, I am sorry. Let me clarify through you: I am not at all dying to go there and meet them, unless they are keen. You can’t clap with one hand. We have to have a resolution and move forward on the Kashmir dispute. If they do not want to move forward on the Kashmir dispute, if they do not want to resolve the Kashmir dispute, I have no reason to go to India. Otherwise, if they are serious about it – yes, any time I would like to go.
Recently the British government declared Lashkar-e Taiba a terrorist organisation. What is your reaction to that? And how concerned are you about Lashkar and other groups, and the potential effect they may have on the security and stability of Pakistan itself?
If we see all freedom struggles in the world, no freedom struggle can continue for over a decade unless it has support. You see your own example of Ireland, there is international support. There are people in the United States supporting them, there are people all around the world who are supporting them. If you see the Palestinians, there are Palestinians all around the world. They are being supported. If you see even the Bosnians or Chechens, all these people they support their own people all around the world. If you see the Tamils in Sri Lanka there are Tamils all around the world who are supporting them.
So if you name any freedom struggle there are supporters outside. And similarly the condition of Kashmir. There is a freedom struggle going on. It is a disputed territory recognised by the United Nations and there is a freedom struggle going on since over 10 years, 75,000 people have died, they have sacrificed their lives. Obviously there are Kashmiris in Britain. I believe Mr Robin Cook’s constituency has a lot of Kashmiris. Yet he keeps on talking against Pakistan and Kashmir.
You think Robin Cook keeps talking against Pakistan and Kashmir?
Yes, I think so. I don’t know what he has against us but generally he gives statements against Pakistan and makes pro-India statements.
You don’t think very much of him then as a diplomat?
I think he is one-sided, he has got biased views. And one expects a foreign minister of Britain to have unbiased views especially as regards to Commonwealth countries, and especially I would say as regards to Pakistan and India over the Kashmir dispute, which I think was created by Britain originally. Therefore the British foreign minister ought to be balanced in his views.
Have you long held the view that he has been pro-Indian?
It is not me alone. I think everyone here thinks that way, that he has got biased views. There is a dispute which has to be recognised as a dispute. As I said it is a legacy of partition and it ought to be recognised by the British foreign minister.
It is widely acknowledged that in terms of nuclear deterrence Pakistan is numerically superior to India. Can you tell us just how many nuclear warheads Pakistan has?
As much as it requires to have a minimum nuclear deterrent. A minimum nuclear deterrent is in place and whatever it requires is in place. I wouldn’t really know the numbers as such.
Everyone thinks your programme is superior to India’s. Do you agree with that view?
I hope it is. I was asked by an interviewer, Mr MK Akbar, the Indian writer, he said that your nuclear capability is ahead and I thanked him for that, but I really don’t know. I am not in total picture of what is the state of the Indian nuclear capability so I wouldn’t be able to answer that, whether we are ahead or they are ahead.
But frankly, being ahead does not really disturb Pakistan. We are not in any arms race. Our aims, our strategy is very, very clear. We want a deterrence level of force against India. We have peaceful intentions. We don’t want to go to war. We would like to deter any nefarious designs against Pakistan. To that extent, whatever it takes to have a conventional and an unconventional force level that we have quantified, and we are very clear, and that is the kind of force we maintain. Irrespective of what India is doing, we maintain that deterrence level, and we don’t want to involve ourselves in a race.
After the [Indian] earthquake I said we must send aid immediately. A lot of people in Pakistan said we should not do that, I overruled them and said, “Let ‘s send them aid. It’s a humanitarian gesture”. But when we offered they said they did not need tents and blankets. Then another letter comes [saying] that “we don’t need tents and blankets but we would like to have sniffing dogs”. So I said, “OK, let them have sniffing dogs”. We have a dog centre and we selected some dogs and we said we’d send them. Again the next day a message comes: “we don’t want your sniffing dogs”. I think they realised that maybe those dogs may be ISI representatives, and so I said, “OK, fine – let’s not send them the dogs”.
In the meantime, there was a reporter than asked me a question on that day: “Are you going to help India?” I said, “I would certainly like to help them. This has got nothing to do with our differences. It is a humanitarian problem. But it seems that they do not need our help.” And then I think good sense prevailed on the other side and the Indian prime minister accepted all our aid.
What I am trying to say is that there is always this kind of politicking, some kind of deeper thought process going on on simple issues. This is an earthquake, there are people suffering, we are trying to send them aid, they should have just said “thank you very much”. What is the issue?
They made an issue of this little affair. They have made an issue of this cricket now, they don’t want to play us and now they are forcing us to take action. And I am really thinking, “Well, if you don’t want to play us, we don’t want to play you.” Why are they bringing politics into sports? These are unfortunate incidents. Such attitudes are really not for peace in the region. We sent our polo team there in spite of all this cricket. A lot of people told me you best not send them. But I am not going to respond in a similar fashion. And I sent a polo team to play there. There is some problem in their thinking, I think.
Are you playing any sport yourself these days?
I used to play very hard squash but now I have left it. I play tennis now whenever I get time. I think now I am starting to get more time and I play about two or three times a week and I have gone back to my golf. I play golf on Sundays, the last two or three Sundays I have played. Otherwise I have been playing a lot, but since the time I have been thrust into this government my sports was the biggest casualty. I had gone down to 14 [golf handicap] but now it is 18 and frankly, I find it very difficult. Golf is one game where you have to be very consistent