Posted by: Administrator | 15 February, 2007

President with Wolf Blitzer CNN

CNN Late Edition with WOLF BLITZER on 5 December 2004

BLITZER: President Musharraf, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to the United States. Always good to speak with you.

PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARAFF, PAKISTAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: There has been concern expressed here in the United States, over the past several days, since word from one of your military commanders came forward that they were withdrawing troops from a certain area of South Waziristan, because that could undermine the hunt for Osama bin Laden. What’s going on?

MUSHARAFF: No, not at all. That’s not the case at all. We are not withdrawing from anywhere. It is just a change of tactics.

There were a number of valleys in which these extremists or these terrorist al Qaeda members were. We have removed them, or we have broken their back. We have taken over all — there are about five valleys which we have taken over completely.

We have removed them from their bases. We have killed hundreds of them. And these valleys were their logistic bases, their communication bases and command bases. So we have totally smashed them from these valleys. Now, they are in small, tiny pockets in the mountains.

So the issue was, should we go around in the mountains, all over the place, or control the northern points, communication infrastructure and these five valleys and then use all our means to locate them in the mountains and strike them?

BLITZER: So when the lieutenant general — and I believe his name was Safdar (ph) Hussein — said that 7,000 or 8,000 troops are being removed from this sensitive area, does that mean that there’s a lessening in the hunt for Osama bin Laden?

MUSHARAFF: No, no, not at all. They are being relocated in a manner that we keep this whole area under our control. And then we use all our intelligence means, all our resources to locate every terrorist, and then strike them.

BLITZER: Is the commitment, the drive by Pakistan, by your government and your military and intelligence forces as strong today as ever in trying to find bin Laden?

MUSHARRAF: Absolutely. I mean, when you talk only of bin Laden, frankly, the issue is not going and locating one individual. We are operating against all terrorists.

Now, within that, we don’t know where he is. He may be anywhere. And therefore, in our strikes, in many of our strikes we find some leader or the other, second stringer, third stringer, has been eliminated or killed.

So we haven’t gone for a particular name as such. So all that I would like to say is that the concentration is not on one individual, frankly. We are operating against all terrorists. He could be anywhere, and he will be knocked out if he is in one of the areas where we strike.

BLITZER: A lot of people believe he is somewhere along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, probably on the Pakistani side. Is that your assessment? I know you don’t know for sure. Is that your working assumption?

MUSHARRAF: No. No, it is not, because anyone who says probably he is in Pakistan, I would like to ask him what have you based this judgment on? So therefore I wouldn’t be able to say that. He could be on Pakistan side, he could be on the Afghan side.

But all that I would like to say is, on the Pakistan side our army is inside all this tribal area belt of ours (ph). There are seven agencies, in all of them we are there. And we are operating there.

Is that the case on the Afghan side? Is all the border region, is the military operating in all the regions of the border? No, sir, they are not. So I leave it to anybody’s judgment, where would he feel safer?

BLITZER: So are you suggesting the U.S. on the Afghan side, together with the Afghan military, the other allied forces on the Afghan side are not doing enough to find bin Laden?

MUSHARRAF: No, no. They are doing enough. They are doing a lot. There are certain force restrictions, also the terrain is very inhospitable, and it’s a large area.

Now, are the troops enough to be in every area? No, they are not enough to be in every area, to cover all the mountains of the region on the border. They are not enough for that. So therefore they are operating according to their own strategy, which they are doing very well.

BLITZER: You saw that recent videotape that came out about a month or so ago by bin Laden. He was wearing these gold robes, no weapon around him. You heard what he said. Have you studied that video tape carefully to see if there are any clues where he might be?

MUSHARRAF: No, frankly, I didn’t. Once we had studied in the past, and we thought the area would be more in the northern portions of the tribal belt. But more than that, one couldn’t identify really, no.

BLITZER: There are some experts who seem to think he could be in Iran. Do you have any evidence to believe that’s possible?

MUSHARRAF: Not at all. We don’t have any evidence, so I wouldn’t be — it would be just guessing if I said anything.

BLITZER: Over the years, when we’ve spoken, you’ve suggested he was a sick man, Osama bin Laden, that he had kidney problems, he needed dialysis. Do you still believe that?

MUSHARRAF: I’m confused, really. I thought that all the intelligence said that he suffers from kidney problems, that he got dialysis machines into the area, but since then, he is alive, that I am sure of. I don’t really know how much he’s suffering.

BLITZER: Do you have any idea how much he’s able to give commands? How much in control of al Qaeda he remains?

MUSHARRAF: I don’t think he is that much in direct command and control, for the reason that he has to use communications, and his communication network obviously would be under surveillance, and also that his command structure is broken, as far as the Pakistan side is concerned.

They are all around in the mountains in small groups, so therefore to think that he is in charge of a very efficient command and control mechanism is not there.

BLITZER: Let’s talk about the deeper issue of terrorism. As you probably know, in the 9/11 Commission report that was released, the bipartisan report that was released here in the United States, they expressed deep concern about these madrassas in Pakistan, these religious Islamic schools. They call them “incubators of violent extremism.” There are thousands of these schools in Pakistan that have trained many of these terrorists, in effect. What are you doing about this problem, so that the mentality, the call for jihad, is going to go away?

MUSHARRAF: Yes, we are doing a lot. We have evolved something known as madrassa strategy to look into this.

But, first of all, the figures should be correct, the perception should be correct. All these madrassas are not teaching extremism and militancy. This is absolutely wrong. Some are, especially in the border belt with Afghanistan. There are many which are involved in militancy and extremism. We need to act against them.

But the other madrassas are teaching religion only. So what we have done is that we are asking them to teach all subjects and take board examinations, so that these madrassa students, who become religious teachers only when they grow up, are to be mainstreamed into other professional activity. And they have accepted our point of view, and they are coming on board.

BLITZER: There was a recent report in The Chicago Tribune. They sent a couple of reporters to one madrassa, the Darul Lum Akanya (ph) madrassa, in which the preacher there said, and I’m quoting now, “He is a brave and courageous man,” referring to Osama bin Laden.

MUSHARRAF: Well, yes. Now, Osama bin Laden is a feature in these religious elements and even in the masses at the lowest level. Yes, he is a personality who is held in respect in certain quarters. There is no doubt about that.

So, therefore, he may have said this. But one has to see whether he’s teaching militancy and he is preparing people to go for terrorist activities elsewhere in Pakistan or abroad. We are looking into these, and we’ll take action.

BLITZER: There was a poll of Pakistanis conducted earlier this year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project and asked this question: “Are suicide bombings against Americans and Westerners in Iraq justifiable?” Forty-six percent of those Pakistanis questioned said yes; 36 percent said no.

That underscores a problem that exists, you would agree on that?

MUSHARRAF: Well, now, I wonder where this poll was taken. Yes, if you go to a certain segment of the society, this will be the result. But if you go to other segments, if you go to Karachi and Lahore where there are more enlightened people, I think this would not be the case.

But having said that, I certainly believe that at the masses level, there is a feeling against all that is happening in Iraq. And, therefore, this kind of perception or this kind of views are being expressed at the masses level.

(NEWSBREAK) BLITZER: We have to take a quick break, but just ahead, more of my interview with the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf. We’ll speak about the situation in Iraq, the overall situation in the Middle East and the spread of nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: Was the U.S. justified to go to war and remove Saddam Hussein?

MUSHARRAF: Well, we were against it initially. Pakistan was against going into Iraq. And now, with hindsight, one can say that we’ve landed ourselves into additional problems.

But having said that, I would like to say that Saddam Hussein was certainly not a person who was loved in Iraq. He was a hated man. He was very cruel. Those are the realities.

But when we go inside and when we are now inside as foreigners, people at the lower level don’t like the visibility of foreign troops ruling their country.

BLITZER: So the bottom line, is the world safer today as a result of the removal, the invasion of Iraq, or is the world less safe?

MUSHARRAF: Oh, I think it’s less safe, certainly. We are…

BLITZER: So it was a mistake for President Bush to order this invasion, with hindsight?

MUSHARRAF: Yes, with hindsight, yes. We have landed ourselves in more problems, yes.

BLITZER: So what do you do about the situation now? Should the U.S. and its coalition partners simply pull out of Iraq at this point?

MUSHARRAF: No, they should not. They should not because that will create more problems in the region. Now that we are there, we need to stabilize the situation and then only.

What I have been saying, my view is, one, is the direct action in Iraq to make sure that we stabilize and we have the elections after stabilizing, and make sure that the elections are successful. And then only should we have an exit strategy.

But there’s an indirect approach to it and the indirect approach is resolving the Palestinian dispute. I think that is the heart of all the problems. Therefore, if we could resolve — if you could address the issue of Palestine simultaneously with whatever we are doing in Iraq, maybe we are going to use an indirect strategy of cooling down and normalizing…

BLITZER: Well, is there an opportunity, with Yasser Arafat now dead, Palestinian elections scheduled for January 9th, is there an opportunity now for a jumpstart, a restart of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations?

MUSHARRAF: I do see an opportunity, certainly. But I would say there is a lot of flexibility required on both sides. That includes Israel. And they must show flexibility, and so should Palestinians.

BLITZER: Did you get a commitment from President Bush at the White House that he will get energized and get directly involved in helping the Israelis and the Palestinians?

MUSHARRAF: Yes, that was on the top of my agenda, frankly. And I am very glad to say that President Bush realizes it and he is very sure that he’s going to play a very active role in bringing peace to the region and on the basis of two states of Israel and Palestine.

BLITZER: And let me just be clear on that. Your government, the government of Pakistan supports a two-state solution, a new Palestinian state living alongside the existing state of Israel?

MUSHARRAF: Yes, indeed.

BLITZER: All right. I just wanted to make sure we’re all on the same page as far as what you see.

Is there anything special that you can do as a Muslim leader, Pakistani leader, to help the Palestinians advance the peace process? Are you going to directly get involved in helping Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, for example, as the new leader of the PLO?

MUSHARRAF: I would like to do anything in that line. And I’ll try. Because I think that is at the root of bringing harmony to the world.

BLITZER: To the world?

MUSHARRAF: Yes.

BLITZER: The world is going to be a safe place if there is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement?

MUSHARRAF: Yes, indeed, because that’s going to pull the rug from under the feet of all the extremist organizations, I think.

BLITZER: So you’re convinced of that?

MUSHARRAF: Absolutely, absolutely. That is the root of the problem.

BLITZER: But there would still be problems between India and Pakistan, even if the Israelis and the Palestinians lived in peace.

MUSHARRAF: Yes, yes. That…

BLITZER: So it’s not going to resolve that problem. It’s not going to resolve problems in the Sudan if there’s peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

MUSHARRAF: Those are rather localized. I think the issue in Sudan is quite localized. But this one has repercussions in Iraq. It has repercussions in Afghanistan. It has repercussions everywhere.

BLITZER: Let’s talk about India and Pakistan. There’s a moment, there’s an opportunity now to ease this crisis over Kashmir, the disputed area. Is there an opportunity now? How confident are you that this standoff between these two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, can end?

MUSHARRAF: I’m very optimistic about it because of the joint statement that was issued between me and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It has a lot of optimism in it, that we are supposed to be discussing all options for the resolution of the Kashmiri dispute in a purposeful manner. So therefore, I keep saying there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

BLITZER: And you’re upbeat about this Indian government, your counterparts in India?

MUSHARRAF: Yes, I would say fairly upbeat. We need to move ahead on the process of considering solutions to Kashmir problem and reaching an option.

BLITZER: Relations between the United States and Pakistan are very good. They’ve improved dramatically since 9/11. A lot of us who covered, had been to Pakistan earlier remember when the relationship was not very good.

One thorn, though, in the relationship right now still is A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who, for decades, had this worldwide effort to proliferate nuclear weapons to Iran, to Libya, North Korea. He’s been pardoned. He’s been arrested, but he’s been pardoned by you.

The International Atomic Energy Agency would like to talk with him, the U.S. government would like to talk to him, but you’re not letting them question A.Q. Khan. Why?

MUSHARRAF: Because, first of all, it shows a lack of trust in us, and it shows a lack of trust in our capabilities. So why is that so? Can’t we interview him? Can’t we interrogate him? Which we are doing, and we are passing the information. So why is there a lack of trust in Pakistan and our capabilities? That is very disappointing.

BLITZER: Well, you want to understand why the IAEA, Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general, why they want to question him and get as much information about what he did during those 25 years to try to deal with the problem of nuclear proliferation?

MUSHARRAF: You think he can question him better than us? If anyone thinks that he can question A.Q. Khan better than us, well, I don’t agree with that at all. We can question him the best.

And then there is a sensitivity. There’s a domestic sensitivity. This man is a hero for the Pakistanis. And the sensitivity that maybe the world wants to interfere in our nuclear program, which nobody wants, which nobody likes. It’s a pride of the nation.

So therefore, in all forms, because we don’t want any interference in our nuclear program, we don’t want any outsider coming and interviewing a person who is considered a hero in Pakistan, and this issue of lack of trust in our capabilities. All the way, that is not doable.

BLITZER: Does the Bush administration give you — are they pressing you on this issue? Does the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon, do they want to question A.Q. Khan? Are they raising this issue with you?

MUSHARRAF: No, they are raising the issue of questioning him and getting all the information, which we are doing.

Now, they have some observation that maybe all the information has not come. We are totally on board on that. We will get all the information. The issue is whether we are passing all the information.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind in the administration here that we have passed all the information that we have. Now, the issue that remains is, maybe that he has not given all the information. We would go along. We want to know what are the issues that they want us to explore further, and we’ll do that.

BLITZER: And can you assure our viewers watching in the United States and around the world right now that, in his activities, in making available nuclear weapons information to all of these other countries over these decades, you had no knowledge of what he was doing?

MUSHARRAF: Yes, 200 percent. Yes, absolutely.

When you say “you,” are you meaning I, personally?

BLITZER: You personally and the government.

MUSHARRAF: No, not at all. Yes, the government, even from the time of when he started proliferating, all the governments and the military had no knowledge. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Another issue on the agenda while you’re here in Washington, U.S. military sales of advanced weaponry to your country, to Pakistan. There’s been a sensitive issue over F-16s and other equipment. Where does it stand right now? What do you want, your military — and you’re a general — from the United States?

MUSHARRAF: We want a balance — a balance in our region to be maintained in the conventional weapons. Now, in that balance, there is some imbalance which is being created because of the purchases being done by the Indian forces.

BLITZER: So what specifically, what hardware do you want? What have you asked — do you have a wish list?

MUSHARRAF: Well, I don’t want to get into the details of the wish list, but certainly high-technology aircraft. We are looking for high-technology aircraft.

BLITZER: And when you asked the president about this, what did he say?

MUSHARRAF: Well, we did discuss the issue, and I would like to leave it at that.

BLITZER: We’re almost out of time, Mr. President. You’ve been very generous with your time.

Talk a little bit about you personally. You’ve been the target of assassination attempts now on a few occasions. How worried are you?

MUSHARRAF: Frankly, I am too busy to worry about myself. One is concerned about security, but I am not overly concerned. There is a job that I have to do, and I am doing that to the best of my ability.

BLITZER: How much longer do you want to continue this job?

MUSHARRAF: As long as it requires the job to be done and as long as I think I can contribute.

BLITZER: Is there a possibility of democratic elections in Pakistan? Is that on the agenda any time soon? MUSHARRAF: Well, that is the remark of democratic elections. We’ve had democratic elections. So I don’t understand what you’re meaning by a program of any democratic elections.

BLITZER: Well, international monitors come in, they watch, they make sure that this is a free and fair process.

MUSHARRAF: They always do. They were there in the last election, and the process, democracy is fully restored. We are going to have our local government elections next year.

We are going to open them to any kind of people coming in. And then we are going to have national elections in 2007, strictly in accordance with the constitution. I held elections in 2002, strictly according to the constitution. And they were democratically done, and there were observers from abroad.

So, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

BLITZER: So, this is a movement in the right direction over these years. You’re satisfied with the direction that Pakistan is moving?

MUSHARRAF: Yes, yes, indeed, I am fully satisfied.

BLITZER: A final question: What is your biggest fear right now?

MUSHARRAF: I think the biggest fear does emerge from extremism and terrorism and militancy, which has really polluted society in Pakistan, not in a manner that the vast majority is there, which is moderate, but this minority which is militant and which is extremist, unfortunately, is holding this vast majority ransom.

So, my concern really is to bring this vast majority moderate in the dominant role and suppress the extremist minority.

BLITZER: President Musharraf, always good to speak with you. Welcome to Washington once again. Thank you.

MUSHARRAF: Thank you very much.

Following this Interview came a response from “Hamid Mir GEO” and his version. Hamid Mir is a journalist who was the last person to interview Osama bin Laden. Read the complete interview at CNN.

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