Video: Brokaw interviews Pakistan's president

By Tom Brokaw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/10/2004 9:34:58 AM ET 2004-02-10T14:34:58

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, a man caught in the cross-currents of the war on terror, anti-Americanism here in Pakistan and now a nuclear scandal involving a man revered here as a national hero.

Musharraf, a career military officer, took power in Pakistan in 1999 in a coup and became a vital American ally when the United States went to war against the Taliban and al-Qaida next door in Afghanistan. This weekend I had a wide-ranging interview with him here in Islamabad.

The man out for a Sunday stroll in his well-appointed garden may look as if he hasn't a care in the world. Look again. As president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf is constantly in the cross hairs.

He was almost killed in two assassination attempts in December.

His wife of 35 years, Sehba, heard the explosion that almost killed him, "I thought something's terribly wrong but then I heard the sound and I ran out — the vehicles and all, it was horrendous.”

“She doesn't normally lose control but this time — the second time — she had lost control.  And I am telling her, I'm alright, I'm alright,” President Musharraf said.

“I had gone ballistic,” Sehba Musharraf added as both laughed.

He's constantly the target of protests because of alliance with the United States.  "If they want to destabilize me or say something against me or work up the masses it is that we're dominated by the United States,” Musharraf said.

Musharraf's latest difficulty involves Dr. A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, a great hero in this country. But last week, Khan admitted on national television he'd been selling nuclear secrets for years for millions of dollars. Musharraf pardoned Kahn, but many Pakistanis think Musharraf humiliated him. But in the rest of the world the pardon looked like a cover up.

Nuclear standoffTom Brokaw: The Washington Post said this week, "that's a whitewash."

President Musharraf: I disagree with it absolutely. One must understand reality. There's an international perception. There's a domestic perception. There's a person involved who's a hero because of what he's done for us yet he has done something which could bring great harm to the nation.  How do I deal with it?

TB: There's a certain irony here in the eyes of a lot of people. President Bush goes to war against Iraq because he believes it has weapons of mass destruction.  It turns out that a national hero in this country is selling nuclear technology, which is the ultimate form of terror.

PM: I certainly see that.  We ourselves were puzzled and outraged.  We didn't know what had struck us.

TB: Was he selling designs and enriched plutonium and other hardware as well?  Were these Pakistani scientists trying to sell to this technology to Osama bin Laden?

PM: No, the last part first, certainly there's no information and there's no intelligence this has been sold to Osama bin Laden.

TB: What about other countries he might have been selling to?

PM: We don't have any information — any intelligence.  Now that is where the world has to cooperate if we want to unearth everything.  At the moment there is no such information anyone else is involved.

TB: The other issue, of course, is punishment for Dr. Khan.  He was given a pardon by you.  A representative for the Carnegie Endowment for Peace pointed out that you would get more jail time for possession of marijuana than for selling nuclear technology.

PM: Well, every individual is different; every environment is different.  You take action according to the environments.

The Khan affair is by no means over for Musharraf, Pakistan or the world.  But the president thinks he's gotten through the first phase:

TB: If you had not made these arrangements with him, would your government have fallen?

PM:  Well, we were in trouble certainly.

Finally, Musharraf is caught between two cultures — the world of Islam and the West.  He says Islam must modernize but on its own terms:

PM: Unfortunately, in the West there is a perception that anyone who doesn’t want to westernize, that he is totally archaic, that he is a fundamentalist and an extremist.  He is not.

TB: And you think the United States comes up short on that equation?

PM: I think not only the United States, but the West.

Musharraf also said the American situation in Iraq has made his job much tougher because it has increased the anti-U.S. passions in the Islamic world.

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