Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf spoke bluntly in an interview with the CBC on Sept. 26, 2006, saying among other things that the death toll among Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan pales in comparison to the losses among his country’s troops. Here is a transcript from the interview conducted by correspondent Carol Off, which aired the same day on the CBC’s flagship news program, The National:
Caroll Off: So is President Musharraf ready to tell all? His autobiography, In the Line of Fire, went on sale yesterday. Musharraf is 63 years old and claims his career is far from over. But maybe publishing his memoir now indicates the president isn’t too sure how much longer he can balance on his tightrope. I met with President Pervez Musharraf in New York this morning.
You were describing your book, and it’s also well-known to the world that things really changed for you as president. [The al-Qaeda attack on the United States of Sept. 11, 2001] was a major turning point, and I wonder at that point what kind of ultimatum did you get from Washington, from the American administration?
Musharraf: Obviously, one knew that the reaction will be very, very strong, and they are going to hit anyone who comes in the way. So Secretary [of State] Colin Powell did ring me up and he spoke normally, and he said, this is a very serious thing that happened. We cannot take it. He said we have to fight terrorism, and I want to ask you whether you are with us or … you are either with us or you are against us. Either you are the friend or the enemy. There’s nothing like neutral. Because our position was central. I mean, anything that was happening in Afghanistan, the access to Afghanistan is only through Pakistan or Iran. The best way is through Pakistan, actually. So that is our geographic location, geographic position, the geo-strategic importance and significance of Pakistan.
Q: But it wasn’t just geography that concerned Washington. It was that you had a relationship with the Taliban.
Q: That was of great concern to Washington, and then when they say to you as [then U.S. deputy secretary of state] Richard Armitage said … he says he didn’t say, “We’ll bomb you to the Stone Age,” but he did say to your director of intelligence, “History begins today,” meaning 9/11, that whatever relationship there had been before that, history began at that point, that you had a relationship with the Taliban and it was time for you to decide which side you were on.
Musharraf: Yes, but that was, if I may clarify, yes, we had, we were one of the three countries other than Saudi Arabia who had recognized the Taliban, and we had a mission there. We were the only country [that] had an embassy. The other two withdrew their embassies, but may I say with hindsight, at that time, I told the leadership, U.S. leadership now, that we should follow a different strategy. I told many world leaders that the strategy of ignoring, totally boycotting the Taliban is not correct. Recognize that, open missions, and then influence them from within, change them from within.
Q: But at 9/11, when you saw those planes fly in to the World Trade Center, did you know already that everything had changed, that everything … that relationship you had with the Taliban, all of that would now have to change?
Musharraf: Certainly we knew that this is a very, very serious issue, and we will be drawn into the fray. This is a very serious thing that they’ve done. But let me clarify. Pakistan having opened a mission doesn’t mean you are friendly and that you accept that kind of culture, that you accept that Talibanization is the way forward. This is not the … In Pakistan, nobody wanted Talibanization. Nobody really were impressed by Taliban and what they were doing, nobody. I mean you have your missions with your enemy countries, so unfortunately, everyone thinks just because we had a mission and we had recognized them, we were totally friendly with them and we were abetting and supporting. That is not the case. We just had a mission and we had diplomatic relation. That was a geopolitical position with us. They were the same ethnic stock as the people bordering Afghanistan.
Q: They were brothers.
Musharraf: So we had no choice but to tread as I said, a tightrope. We need to take them along, otherwise it would have had a negative impact on Pakistan.
Q: Do you think the United States to some extent was an author of its own fate in that respect, that they had abandoned, as you say, all these mujahedeen, that they had created this world of warriors?
Musharraf: I would say these were big blunders. We should not have been left like that, which [gave] the people of Pakistan a feeling that we are used even now, the feeling when we have such good relations developing with the United States.
Q: Do you fear that … and do people in Pakistan fear that now that they’ve been allied to the United States for its war on terror, that eventually they’ll just abandon you again?
Musharraf: No, no, because of the geo-strategic reality, that is not going to be possible in the near future. What is the world interested in today, concerned about? They are concerned about terrorism. They are concerned about democracy. They are concerned about narcotics, nuclear proliferation. So all these things are around here happening in this region. So this emphasis or the significance of Pakistan or our region will not reduce.
Q: It’s certainly not being ignored by Canada and NATO members, the United States, and there’s been a lot of suggestions, more than suggestions, some pretty angry moments with NATO generals along with the United States, Canada being among those who have complained that you’re not doing enough to curb the flow of insurgents into Afghanistan, where our soldiers are fighting.
Musharraf: I take very strong exception to such statements because these indicate, number one, that our intentions are not noble. It indicates a doubt in whatever we are doing. Now, this is the worst thing that can happen to a country which has suffered the ravages of 27 years of whatever has happened in this region in the front ranks. We were the one who led the defeat of communism. We are now in the front ranks again, fighting terrorism. We are the only one which has inducted 80,000 troops, suffered over 500 casualties, which NATO is talking about who’s serious and who’s not serious.
Q: Well, they’ve been very sus…
Musharraf: We are the only ones who have caught 680 al-Qaeda people and handed them over. Otherwise, the world could never have achieved that if Pakistan were not there. We are the ones who broke the back of al-Qaeda in the mountains of Pakistan. They are on the run now. We caught their sanctuaries, where they were in hundreds and now they are in single digits, eights and tens, running around in the mountains.
Q: Hamid Karzai is saying that you’re blaming Afghanistan for producing the Taliban and the insurgency, and you’re saying it’s Afghanistan. At what point do you and President Karzai have to work together and agree that you both have a problem here?
Musharraf: Yes, we should work together, but I’m afraid he is not being honest about everything. He is concerned more about himself than about Afghanistan. He is a Pashtun himself, and he knows the realities what is happening on ground. He knows what is happening in the ethnic belt of Pashtuns, which borders Pakistan, that there are Taliban like they were there for six years. They haven’t evaporated into thin air. They are there, and their leader, Mullah Omar, is very much there. So they have the space. However, I have never refuted that there is support from our side. There is no doubt there are sympathizers because of the ethnic connectivity. There are sympathizers. They sympathize. They even go across. I never said they don’t go across. We need to check them. We need to check them on our side. We need to take away the people. We need to fight and defeat the Taliban. How to do it? We have our own strategy.
Q: Canadian soldiers are coming home in coffins, they’re coming home wounded from this region. They’re very concerned about the insurgency being fed by whomever, Pakistan, Afghanistan, local homebred poppies. It’s of great concern. Our defence minister, Gordon O’Connor, has asked if they can put Canadian agents, officers inside Pakistani space to work with your own in order to safeguard this border. Did you discuss this with Minister O’Connor? Did your Defence Department discuss this with our minister?
Musharraf: No, no, nobody comes on our side, and let me assure you, you yourself said you have seen Pakistani troops. I would not like to challenge the Canadian troops, but I can assure you our troops are more effective, and we have more experience of war, and this shows lack of trust in Pakistan.
Q: It does show lack of trust, but do you not think they have any reason to be distrustful?
Musharraf: No, but we won’t allow that. If there’s lack of trust, that doesn’t mean that we allow Canadians in our side. If there is a lot of sensitivity, we will not allow that. The other thing is when you talk of coffins going.… When a soldier puts on a uniform and he joins the army, is this for fighting or for peacekeeping or what does he join the army for? He’s joined to fight, and when you fight, there are casualties, and when you get involved in places like Iraq or Lebanon or Afghanistan, yes, indeed, you have to suffer casualties, and the nation must be prepared to suffer casualties. So if you’re not prepared to suffer casualties as an army, then don’t participate in any operation. I mean, I’ll just say that.
Q: But they’re asking that the Canadians are making the sacrifice and they would like to know that your country is not making it worse for them.
Musharraf: We have suffered 500 casualties. Canadian may have suffered four or five.
Q: Actually, it’s more than that…
Musharraf: So what are we talking about? Who are we talking to? Who are we talking to? We are talking to the president of a country that has suffered 500 casualties. So you suffered two dead, and there’s a crying and shout all around the place that there are coffins. Well, we’ve had 500 coffins. So you think we are not fighting?
Q: There’s been 36 from Canada, but there’s been many, many wounded, but I take your point. It shouldn’t be a body count. You’ve had to, again, tightrope-walk politically between various factions, and one of them you’ve had to balance yourself with is Islamic hardliners in your country who don’t have much support, sort of popular support, but seem to have an awful lot of influence. Why have you tried to appease those Islamic leaders?
Musharraf: Again, I don’t know who says these things. They keep talking everything against me. They think I am some kind of a non-Muslim. They talk against me and here, there are people asking me why am I appeasing them. Who appeases them? My course is quite confrontationist against them. So I really do not understand who says all this.
Q: I think one of the examples is people …
Musharraf: These are things spread by the opposition, the opposition leaders who want me to be undermined. This is one line they’ve taken, that I’m the one appeasing the religious lobbies. The religious lobbies are after me all the way, so I just don’t understand it!
Q: But one example that they do cite is the Hudood ordinances and the concern that you are not respecting women’s rights. I know you’ve given women an opportunity to sit in parliament, but, you know, you had probably …
Musharraf: Who got this bill introduced, do you think? Nobody dare touched this bill. It was introduced in 1979. For 27 years, nobody had the guts to touch it, including a woman prime minister. She couldn’t do anything for the women. I touched it. I have started the debate. I have got it introduced in the parliament, and I will get it done. We will make sure that women protection, the amendments duly will be carried out. All this has my backup. So I don’t know who talks. Who is talking? This is all nonsense. Please read the book and please read whatever I’m saying what I have done for the women and ask the women of Pakistan. I have a certain popularity, and my strongest popularity, may I tell you, is the women of Pakistan and the minorities of Pakistan because they feel the amount that I have done for them, nobody ever has done, not even a woman prime minister.
Q: But how do you balance all these things? On one hand, you’re laughing at some of my questions because I’m asking you why are you kowtowing to the Americans, why are you kowtowing to the Taliban, why are you kowtowing to this group? You obviously have to balance so many different things. You have to deal with the Americans …
Musharraf: There’s no balance between Taliban and Americans. There’s no balance between al-Qaeda, not at all. There is no balance. We are fighting Taliban, we are fighting al-Qaeda. There is no balancing being done here at all, and there’s no balancing being done between the religious party and the moderates. I’m a moderate and I’m supporting all moderate elements to win in the future elections against any extremist religious groups. This is my direction. Now, there are people who don’t believe this, and your questions are directed from the people who don’t believe this. I am not there to answer it, but here I can tell you my direction is very, very, very clear. There is no kowtowing with anyone. There is a clear principle; there is a clear direction that I have set for myself. The balancing is not in this area at all.
Q: Usually people write memoirs at the end of a career. Why did you decide to write this memoir now?
Musharraf: Well, I think I’m in the centre stage of events. Pakistan is in the centre of events, and also, whatever questions you asked, it shows how much misperception, disinformation, wrong understanding of realities that exist around the world. Not only your questions, but I know that these are, whatever you ask, these are the misperception going around. How much clarification is required? Pakistan is in the centre stage for all that is important to the world, so I thought I must clarify. I must clarify my position. I must clarify Pakistan’s position. I must put everything in order in a truthful manner for the world to see how we did things and why we did things.
Q: President Musharraf, it’s a pleasure to talk to you
Musharraf: Thank you. Thank you very much