Pervez Musharraf became president of Pakistan in October 1999 when he ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup. After September 11, the man that some in the United States once denounced as a "tin pot" dictator became, overnight, a pivotal player on the world stage and a very close friend of the United States. His willingness to work with the United States has come at a great cost back home. Many in Pakistan denounce him as a traitor and in March 2005, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan, declaring Musharraf unacceptable because of his pro-American policies. Read his complete interview with NBC’s Tom Brokaw below.
Tom Brokaw: Mr. President, this is our third meeting in the last year. We have talked at great length about the war on terror. Going into the summer of 2005, what is your overall assessment about how that war is going?
Pres. Pervez Musharraf: I think we are talking of our region, fighting the al-Qaida. I think it is going well. We are on the winning side. I think things are improving.
Brokaw: Osama bin Laden. He was, for a long time, the poster child of al-Qaida. Now there's a belief in many quarters that he has been neutralized. What’s your judgment?
Musharraf: I would agree with that. Neutralized to an extent, because [of] the successful operations against al-Qaida on our side of the border, where we have almost eliminated them from our cities. Then we have all eliminated them from their bases, we seized all their bases which were in the valleys, their sanctuaries which they were using as their command bases, their logistic bases, their propaganda bases. We got truckloads of discs and CDs and computers. So that was their command center. They were controlling things from there. Having seized all that, they are now on the run in small packets, in the mountains. What I, as a military man think, is that we have broken their vertical and horizontal homogeneity, their command and control, which is so important to have a well-organized, well-orchestrated body. So therefore they cease to exist as a well-coordinated body because their vertical and horizontal linkages - communication linkages, command linkages - are broken.
Brokaw: But where do you think he is, and why is it so hard to capture him?
Musharraf: Well, I cant say where he is. He could be anywhere on the border, on Afghan side, or even on the Pakistan side. Or he may be shifting regularly, changing places.
Brokaw: But up and down that area, you think, in the tribal areas?
Musharraf: I would think so, I would presume. That is what my logic says. Because there are operations going on on both sides, and they are not in the same area. Therefore, while an operation may be going on on the Afghan side, he may prefer to come onto the Pakistan side. So therefore, he could be shifting and why we can’t get to him, because really this is a very inhospitable [area.] There is no communication infrastructure except that we are building it now, since the last two years, for more than two years, with the army [in grass] inside, army is helping out. We are making [over] their tracks now… inside, developing human intelligence. It’s an ongoing process, which is, with every passing day, improving. Human intelligence is improving. Otherwise, previously, we didn't have any human intelligence. Nobody was there to inform us what was happening. So I think gradually, we are improving our presence, our intelligence, our technological intelligence, but they're also getting wiser. On the technology side, they do understand that they shouldn't be doing something where they can be picked up. They realize the dangers now. So I would say, the terrain allows it, and facilitates, and maybe there are people who may be harboring him also.
Brokaw: There's widespread belief in the United States that even some elements in the Pakistani army in that region are sympathetic to him because they come from that area, they have relatives there, it will make their lives very difficult if they're the ones who are, picking off Osama bin Laden.
Musharraf: I don't think so at all. There is absolutely no chance. First of all in the army, the army is predominantly - we have a mixed army. Predominantly they are from Punjab, but there are people from Baluchistan, there are people from Sindh and also frontier. And these people from frontier are not necessarily from the tribal agencies. They are from other areas. Frontier has very different [people]. It's a tribal society, which is different from different areas of frontier. So there’s no question that that is the case in Pakistan, in the Pakistan army. Especially when they went in and suffered so many casualties, they are absolutely clear who the enemy is. And also, the locals realize that these people are more trouble for them than anything good. And thirdly, many of them were harboring them and supporting them not for any religious motivation. It was for money. Business. These people, now that we've interrogated so many of them, even in madrassas, whenever we caught them and they were hiding, many of them were paying very heavily, thousands of dollars, for hiding there. And also getting a house in those tribal areas, getting a compound, they were paying thousands of dollars. They had a lot of money. So the issue was greed for money as much as maybe religious motivation.
Brokaw: Are they running out of money in al-Qaida?
Musharraf: I think so. I would presume so. I can’t say it for sure, but I am sure with all the squeezing that is being done worldwide, and also by us, through the financial channels operating, I am quite sure they are running short of money. And in fact there are indications that they are, yes, they are running out of money.
Brokaw: Is there a danger for you personally and for your government that if Pakistani troops take down Osama bin Laden, in what would probably be a difficult struggle, it would cause an uprising in some of the cities in your country and in the refugee camps?
Musharraf: Well, there will be effects. But we shouldn't be so naïve as to capture him and then go around telling everyone and going around with him everywhere. I mean there is a method of dealing with the situation.
Brokaw: So you would do it discreetly?
Musharraf: One should work out methods, moralities of how one should deal with the situation, whenever he is confronted.
Brokaw: But it would be delicate, wouldn't it.
Musharraf: It would be. Certainly delicate. Not only here, but even in the Islamic world.
Brokaw: Gen. David Barno, who is the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, has said recently that Pakistani forces will be involved in major operations along the tribal frontier regions late this spring and this summer. Is that the case?
Musharraf: We are involved there. We've got I think roughly about 75,000 troops. We've got 44, if I'm not wrong, 44 wings of frontier. We've got I think 27 battalions of infantry. There are two division headquarters involved and there are about six brigade headquarters involved. This is a tremendous force. And certainly they are operating, they will keep operating. We have to sustain the pressure.
Brokaw: But will they be stepping up their activity?
Brokaw: The Pakistani army.
Musharraf: Well, it’s not an issue of -- you see, this is more intelligence than operations. The operations against them is more intelligence based. Wherever we can [get] confirmed intelligence from various sources, we attack that target and come back. So that is it. So there is nothing like holding of defenses by them where we increase our operation and we reduce our operation. There are no static lines. There are no defined lines. It's a matter of whenever we get information, so if we start getting more intelligence, we'll operate more. The bottom line is clear. Whenever we get intelligence we will strike that.
Brokaw: One of the frustrations I hear from American military commanders and intelligence officials in Afghanistan and in Washington is that when they provide the Pakistani military units with intelligence, they're too slow to act on them.
Musharraf: I think this is a very wrong expression on the force. I don't want to lay down certain areas. For three years we have been talking of what we need. We need, and I have always from day one been saying, aerial mobility, capability of moving during day and night, and capability of shooting during day and night. And you'll be surprised if I told that even today, we have hardly been provided that capability for night. So let’s not talk about these details, we have a lot of such things. Our troops, there's a special operations task force – SOTF -- and we have even moved troops very close to the areas of operation so that we have a faster response. But these capabilities were denied to us for years, I'm telling you. Even now, we are not fully capable.
Brokaw: Gen. Barno also said this past week that the United States military is much more involved now in training Pakistani troops right on the border.
Musharraf: No. That's not true. That's not true at all. There is no training going on, except, we needed training of our pilots for night flying, for night fighting and night flying, and also for cooperation on the intelligence. Otherwise, our troops are extremely well trained. We do interact. We have joint exercises of our special service group with the United States Special Forces. That is a feature which has been going on for years, and we do that also now. I think our special services group is extremely well trained, and our troops are war-hearted. They've fought wars and they've fought conflicts.
Brokaw: But why not have more cooperation. Would that cause you more trouble politically in this country?
Musharraf: Yes, indeed. I think presence of any foreign troops is not looked very favorably in Pakistan. And under the present environments, that would be not a wise thing to do.
Brokaw: When we met last fall in New York, you told me that you thought the American war in Iraq was a distraction from the war on terror. That in many ways, it enraged and energized radical Muslims in this part of the world because of what they were seeing on television. Now that there have been elections in Iraq and they're trying to form a new government. Is that still your judgment?
Musharraf: Well I think things are improving rapidly. With more involvement of Iraqis and a national government in place, and more raising of Iraqi security forces, and withdrawal, gradual withdrawal, reducing the visibility of foreign forces, more Iraqi forces coming up. I know about 155,000 Iraqi forces have been trained. That is the right course. And I think things are improving gradually.
Brokaw: So there's not as much resentment in the Islamic world now as there was say a year ago about what was going on in Iraq?
Musharraf: I think it is less. I think it is less.
Brokaw: Is there less anti-Americanism in your country?
Musharraf: I think, again, yes, gradually less. It was much more in the past with whatever happened in Afghanistan and the Taliban. And then over that when Iraq occurred. But gradually, or number one, a lot of elements in Pakistan, even the political elements who were talking against whatever was happening in Wana and all that, and trying to accuse the government of anti-Islamic, anti-religious stance, I think they are all convinced that this is nothing to do with religion. This is a pure issue about law and order in Pakistan, and pure issue of terrorism, where we cannot allow any foreign element using our territory to cause terrorist acts in Pakistan or elsewhere. I think everyone has understood and there is no criticism of our action anywhere whenever we undertake them now.
Brokaw: I was just in Afghanistan. The parliamentary elections are scheduled for this fall, as you know. Great concern there about the Taliban and al-Qaida cells trying to disrupt those elections. And military commanders on the ground and at the highest levels are telling me that there's just a lot more Taliban activity now in Afghanistan and much of it comes from across the border in your country to Afghanistan.
Musharraf: Well, coming across from this border from our border, I wouldn't subscribe to this. There is a possibility, certainly, I will not deny that nothing's happening from this border. There is certainly a possibility. And that is where intelligence comes in. If at all there is information that there is some movement, or if a movement has taken place and some action has taken place, normally what happens is, many times, several times, that we are told after two weeks that these, there was so-and-so action, done by Taliban, came from here, went back to your country. Now what is this? I don't know. If they went from here, if you know that they are acting, why don't you keep following? We have all the means. There are predators, we'll keep tracking them. And if they are moving in a certain direction towards our border, why are we not informed? They are moving, they are on foot. Or in vehicles. We can take them on. So accusing unnecessarily without understanding ground operational realities to me is very unfair. And unfortunately I know that there is some bad-mouthing from the Afghan side which should not be, and I've made this very clear, please don't do this. Because I think there is much more void, in, within Afghanistan. American forces are not operating everywhere. So are not Afghan forces. Many areas are absolutely vacant. Where would they go? I think, where would the Taliban be if they wanted to hide? We are everywhere. So okay. But, terrain is bad here also. And there may be sympathizers. So I will not deny this, that there are Taliban here. They may be moving across, but they should not blame Pakistan that most of it is happening from here. Who's giving this? Let me have the figures. Let them substantiate this statement. Let anyone substantiate this statement. They won’t. So this is not correct. I think we shouldn't blame each other. Things are going well. We are both fighting. There should be no doubting intentions. Capabilities could be -- one could say that maybe we didn't act fast enough, as you said. Or we should have moved but we didn't move. But intentions should not be doubted. That is very bad. It really frustrates when you are doing so much. We have suffered about 250 deaths, casualties.
Brokaw: Have you conveyed all this to President Bush?
Musharraf: Yes indeed, whenever we discuss. I do talk in this same manner. That this is, I don't think he accuses me actually, one does not have to talk like this. He has never accused us like this. He always talks very -- expressed gratitude. Everyone who comes here expressed gratitude. Now who says that things are -- we are doing so much as I said. 75,000 troops, suffered 250 deaths and about 115 or 200 injured. This is what this army has paid. This is unfair.
T: Are you surprised the Taliban still has as much support in your country and in Afghanistan as it seems they have?
Musharraf: Yes it does… We must understand what Pakistan has gone through. Go back to 1979. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, what happened? The whole world launched a jihad. Mujahideen were brought from the whole Islamic world. And from Pakistan, Taliban from Pakistan. From the madrassas of Pakistan, were trained, equipped, financed by Pakistan with Western support. Our ISI in the lead. For 10 years we did this. For 10 years. And then, when we won, Soviets were defeated and cold war was over. East-West conflict, Berlin Wall finished, everyone went off. Because strategically we were more eurocentric. Everyone left this area and 4 million refugees in Pakistan, and warlords, dozens of warlords fighting themselves, each other in Afghanistan. All this for whoever wanted to escape to a better place, Pakistan. Because there was nothing in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was ravaged. They came into Pakistan, into our cities, into our mountains. Then, to top it all, Kashmir freedom struggle started in ’89, and for 16 years, the effect of that on us. Then came Taliban. And then came 9/11. All this. There were hundreds of mercenary groups operating in Afghanistan. I know it because I happened to be in the special service group. And my own colleagues -- I know many of them, I met them -- what are you doing in those 80s? They had about hundred people. They were fighting in Afghanistan. They've come back for rest… So this is the effect of this. Now hundreds of group, mercenary groups, Taliban, from all over the world, Islamic fighters, now, they stayed here. They are here. And they started turning their focus after the Soviets left to other places. They had their own political agenda in their own countries. Like the Uzbeks, they have political agenda in Uzbekistan. Saudis, they have political agendas of their own country. And so also in all other countries. They are all here! And we had to deal with them. And nobody to help us. After 89, from 89 till 2001 sir, nobody. I calculated the support that we got from the United Nations welfare agency. It came to about $12 to $13 per anum per head. This is the kind of support. So all our economy was getting shattered, and the people were there. Now we had to swing 180 degrees opposite after 9/11. Now we are trying to wind them up. 'okay hold on. Get back. Get out of the country. Stop this mercenary activity.' So please be patient. This country has suffered.
Brokaw: Some people in this country, however, with all due respect, believe that you have not stood up enough to the religious leaders who have an extreme point of view, and that you have not pushed hard enough for the economic, political and cultural reforms that are necessary to dampen the Taliban.
Musharraf: Now these are the accusations, I know. I know these accusations. On the economy front, I don't know who is saying, our economy is doing exceptionally well. Yes, on the religious front, I want to make a point. The world must understand how the religious issue has to be dealt with. In the Muslim countries… if you, as a government, try to adopt a policy where you suppress religion, any religious group, and you make an environment where people start thinking that the government is some kind of a non-religious, they don't believe in religion, why they religious groups are there, and that's why they suppress them. Now this mass of moderates in the middle, who are quite illiterate and poor also, they will swing to the religious side. Now it is wiser to show that you are equally religious. You're not non-religious. You believe. You are religious. We are all very religious. But what religion these people are talking is extreme religion. That's not the real spirit of Islam. So defeat them in their own, number one. And in that, there are a lot of religious groups - this is not one entity. Religious groups are not one entity… It was Sufis through which Islam came here. These are very peaceful, they promote love and harmony. It is political religious parties have a different -- they were against the government of whatever. Don't do something where you take all the religious groups and they go on one side. And then the people start seeing that the government is non-religious and all religion -- I mean you have to handle this with care. We are handling this with extreme care. And I think we are doing very well. I could have spoken hours on this subject, what we are doing and how we need to handle. What is the strategy to do it.
Brokaw: You have two other big issues, especially with your neighbors to the East. You’re a nuclear power, so is India. You seem to be making some progress on Kashmir, why not take it all the way out, India and Pakistan, show the world how to deal with the realities of nuclear power and put down your nuclear weapons simultaneously?
Musharraf: There’s no problem with Pakistan, I’ve been saying this openly, let me repeat, south Asia should be a de-nuclearized south Asia, but we will not do it alone, let India agree to it and we are game.
Brokaw: Would you put that on the table with the Indians?
Musharraf: Anytime, I've said it openly, it has to be on a bilateral basis and it has to be mutually decided how to de-nuclearlize.
Brokaw: But would you give up your nuclear weapons if India gave up its nuclear weapons and North Korea did not?
Musharraf: As far as we are concerned, we have no word connotations on our nuclear capabilities, we have our capability, our strategy is defensive deterrence, a strategy of defensive deterrence, and we have quantified this strategy of defensive deterrence into conventional forces Army, Navy of course and non-conventional. Initially it was totally conventional, but when India went nuclear, we had to rectify the imbalance that they created and went nuclear. They made missiles, again an imbalance had been created and we had to make missiles.
Brokaw: I know you have been concerned about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians and the effect of all that on the Muslim world. Are you less concerned now that there seems to be some movement between the Palestinians and Israelis now between resolving territory?
Musharraf: Yes, I am less concerned because I do see some movement but I only hope that we succeed ultimately, and I made this absolutely, clear to President Bush, that failure is no longer an option for us unfortunately, and for the sake of the world for the sake of peace and harmony in the world, this Palestinian issue has to be put behind and the only country and only individual maybe to be able to do this is President Bush and the United States. So if you fail to do it, you are failing the world, I think
Brokaw: One of the most significant developments in the war on terror was the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohamed, here, where is he at this moment.
Musharraf: I really don’t know. They’ve captured him and I think he's been taking by, because Saudi Arabia didn’t want him, he's been taken by the United States. I don’t know.
Brokaw: And they have him in Dago Garcia is the speculation. Is that your belief?
Musharraf: “In Dago Garcia? I don’t know at all, I'm not keeping track. As long as he’s out of Pakistan, I don’t care where he is.
Brokaw: There was some confusion about who was responsible for his capture. The Americans tell us the CIA was 95 percent responsible for his capture and the Pakistanis were given a lot of the credit for obvious political purposes. How would you assess who was responsible?
Musharraf: All the actions that have taken place, we have captured around 703 to be exact, intelligence cooperation with India is no doubt that we get a lot of support, intelligence backup, information leading to where they are. But the physical action, never has American done that, let that be very clear, where there are bullets and fighting and hand grenades, it’s the Pakistani troops that are ahead, it’s the Pakistani law enforcement and the Pakistani intelligence. If at all there is anybody at that time, who maybe handing some technical equipment, he's way behind, sitting very safe and cozy. I think this is very unfair on anyone’s part to say that.
Brokaw: And Pakistani journalists tell me that there’s still some confusion about the house from which he was taken, that there were video tapes that were made that didn’t seem to match up with the house when they went there. There’s some confusion about just where he was hiding out, no?
Musharraf: I don’t know at all. I wouldn’t be able to comment, but in operations like this, there’s always some confusion some because you call on a certain lead, you get information, you confirm it from a number of sources that information. That intelligence is never perfect but when you feel that okay, this is enough to launch an action, surround and go in, you do that, and it is not always, the situation is not always the same as what we, I think whoever talks on these and criticizes should understand how these things operate.
Brokaw: Do you think there’s too much back and forth about who gets the credit for capturing Khalid Sheik Mohamed?
Musharraf: I didn’t know that there was so much controversy. I find it rather childish to get involved in this. I know there are three intelligence agencies here in Pakistan, our own, and whenever they try to compete with each other and take credit I always tell them, why, I mean, whoever has done it, I am interested in the outcome, why are we squabbling among ourselves, who initiated, who found out and who acted? These sting operations start with a certain information about a certain person or a group, then, that gets confirmed, you have to confirm it through technological means. If you get information through technology you want to further confirm it through human intelligence, so all resources are honest and focused on whatever this initial information comes, and then that info is sometimes not 100 percent, but you take a leap in the dark and you go for the sting operation. Many times it fails, the man is not there, so many times it has happened, that you went and you found that no, the man has escaped. He’s not there, wrong information. So these are not black and white that you’re moving when you know a 100 percent the man is there, and who has done it. There are many people who have contributed to the success of an operation, so I think one shouldn’t even get involved in it. But one thing is clear, we have earned millions of dollars from the United States for the head money. I wonder if the U.S. is very naive if they gave us millions of dollars for Khalid Sheik Mohamed because and we didn’t even do anything, so why did they give us all that money? They should have then.
Brokaw: There were two conspicuous attempts on your life and as a result of that, some major figures in al-Qaida and Taliban were grabbed. Is it easier to find them in the cities than the rural areas?
Musharraf: Yes, it’s easier in the cities because of technological means, which you can hone on.
Brokaw: And they're more protected in the rural areas? Harder to get at them?
Musharraf: In the rural areas, areas are inaccessible, so first is to locate, in rural areas, is human intelligence which is predominant in the cities. More technological means are dominant than having the human intelligence. Then confirming it and then moving to the place is another issue. In the cities you can move by air, so movement is restricted in the rural areas, getting information, intelligence is hard.
Brokaw: Not as many constraints in the city?
Musharraf: Yes, No, in the cities, less constraints.
Brokaw: It’s been almost four years since the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. How close are we now on winning the war on terror -- or are we farther away?
Musharraf: In Pakistan, in this area, I think we are closer to winning. I am very sure of that, I am very confident, that here, we’re on the winning side and things are improving, even on the Afghan side, so therefore, we don’t have to blame each other for anything. Taliban are moving, but the closer we get to the election, because they know they have to disrupt that, they want to disrupt the presidential election. Did they do it, no. We acted very well, we took action, we established posts, we denied them movement and we succeeded. The presidential election went very well. I’m very sure that now again, disruptions will come again in the parliamentary election. I’m very sure that if we take proper action like we did, we will succeed again.
Brokaw: But you expect a long, hot summer?
Musharraf: I don’t think as bad as in the past. I think gradually there are many in the Taliban who are showing gradual inclination towards resigning and compromising…
Brokaw: There’s a fair amount of turmoil, in the American intelligence agencies now. The CIA is being reorganized, there’s a new national director of intelligence, people are trying to find out where they fit in all of that, who reports to whom. Has that had any effect on the quality of intelligence you receive from the U.S. and are you concerned about these new lines that are still being formed?
Musharraf: I don’t think its having an effect here. I think there were problems in the beginning, when the intelligence cooperation was not smooth. We always were given information which was cold. This game is very fast, the targets move very fast. You have to have immediate information, immediate action, faster the better and if you are telling us something that happened a few days back, it’s useless, the information is useless. That was the problem. But now we have integrated extremely well, and then the intelligence on the Afghan side, the intelligence on our side, operational linkages on both sides, communicational operational linkages on both sides, strategic levels technical level I think fairly well organized, we are quite satisfied.
Tb: But you still don’t want American forces going into tribal areas alone.
Musharraf: No, that would be very unwise and secondly, the issue is, is there a complaint that we're not doing. Now, the complaint that you said, I don’t know who is saying this. I would like to know who is saying this, that we are not operating strongly.
Tb: “It’s not that you’re not acting strongly, it’s that you’re not operating swiftly on this.
Musharraf: No, I think we operate very swiftly. As I said, we have to have the capability, which we have now. We are not fully capable of night effective, and the delay is not from our side. I can assure you, the delay is form the other side, your side that we were not made capable enough in training -- the pilots to be able to fly at night. Now we do and we move quite fast. We’ve made troop deployments that can be made very fast.
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