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The Saturday Interview: Musharraf on the curse of terrorism in Pakistan

June 12, 2011

Former Pakistan president General Pervez Musharraf led military coups in 1999 and 2007 before restoring democratic rule and serving as head of state. He is uniquely positioned to describe the situation in what many consider the most “dangerous country in the world” and the geopolitics in the region. He believes Pakistan, like Afghanistan, is a victim and is hurtling toward becoming a failed state, which will have grave ramifications worldwide. He was driven from office in 2008 and exiled in London after charges he was part of a conspiracy to kill Benazir Bhutto. He is committed to returning next year to seek election and has embarked on a campaign to improve understanding about the issues. Here are excerpts from his lecture, a press conference and two interviews with The Post’s Diane Francis this week at the Conference of Montreal.

Q What happens when the American, Canadian and other NATO troops leave Afghanistan?

A This will be a disaster unless Afghanistan is stable. It could lead to chaos, which will badly affect Pakistan, then India, the region and the world. This is what happened when the Americans left Afghanistan after the Soviets were defeated. I call this the Period of Disaster. There was no resettlement of the 25,000 mujahedeen fighters [recruited by the U.S. from refugee camps, including religious fighters led by Osama bin Laden]. They had been brought in by the Americans to fight the Soviets. After the withdrawal [in 1989], there was a vacuum. The Afghan elite had left for the U.S. and Europe, and the country was [in] anarchy, ravaged for years by having to fend for itself and returning to war-lordism. Four million refugees left Afghanistan for Pakistan. Then terrorists and the Taliban flooded Pakistan, tearing apart our socio-economic fabric. The biggest danger is that all these extremist elements are developing a nexus with Pakistan at the core.

Q How bad is Pakistan’s current condition and why are you going back?

A I think that the state is in great danger. My concern is Pakistan and I see at this moment nobody who can handle Pakistan so it’s nosediving down. GDP grew by 8.6% when I was head of state and now it’s 2.2%. The debt of the country has tripled in three years, or more than was accumulated in 60 years. The currency has [been devalued]. Foreign direct investment has collapsed, inflation is high, unemployment too.

Q Do you have support for your new party?

A There is support, or indications of that. Polling is difficult in the country, but the feedback from people, the media and rallies held in Pakistan is positive. We have a reasonable chance to win or to form a coalition with alternative parties to the People’s Party or PLN. I have 430,000 Facebook followers, 75% of whom are from Pakistan, which is another indicator.

Q What will you do if you win?

A We must reinforce the army and police and stop the curse of terrorism. This means extremists who misuse mosques, madrassas and organizations. This will not be an easy task, believe me. The main focus will be the development of the country and welfare of the people.

Q When you return to Pakistan how will you avoid the charges and jail?

A The charges are designed to scare me away. They are politicized. [My enemies] hope, when I return, to embroil me in them. But will I be jailed? Most likely not. This will not stop me.”

Q Are you not personally frightened after three assassination attempts on your life?

A If one is to think only of one’s own comfort, then I shouldn’t go at all. My wife is not pleased, but she will go along. My two children support my decision too.

Q Pakistan is being severely criticized and accused of harbouring bin Laden because the U.S. government claims he lived there for five years. How could that happen?

A I want the United States to provide evidence that he was there for five years. We must get rid of these conspiracy theories. I don’t believe it. I was president until 2008, and I knew nothing about this and would have. If he was there for a long time in one place, the explanation is complicity or failure. I believe it was failure or incompetence at a high level. This is human intelligence, which is not perfect. After all, there were more than a dozen terrorists who trained as pilots in the United States for months, hijacked four airplanes and caused 9/11 and the CIA had no idea. There is a joke in Pakistan that if bin Laden was living in a room for five years with three wives, he himself probably called the U.S. to come and kill him.

Q Why is there so much anti-American sentiment in Pakistan?

A For 42 years we were a strategic ally of the U.S. in Afghanistan then after 1989 we felt abandoned. There were sanctions imposed on us and a policy shift toward India, even though it had been squarely in the East camp with the Soviet Union while we had been in the West camp. Pakistan was used, then tossed aside, and this was seen as a betrayal. That’s why there must be trust restored between the U.S. and Pakistan.”

Q What role has India played in hurting perception of Pakistan’s victimization?

A A great deal. India is better at public relations and bigger too. Indians are everywhere. Israel and India lobby together against Pakistan. [India supported Palestinian independence until 1992, but then recognized Israel.] I believe we need to review relations with Israel at some point, but the Palestinian problem has to be resolved. That situation is very unpopular in Pakistan.

Q Is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal safe from terrorists?

A Pakistan’s military is the stabilizing factor in the country. It protects Pakistan from external and internal conflicts, and the people always turn to the army to resolve conflicts. There are foolproof systems in place to protect the nuclear arsenal and there is no danger of its capture or control by terrorists or anyone else.

Q Should the military be in charge again to stabilize the country. Why don’t you lead another army takeover?

A I think military takeovers are no longer in fashion in the world, or in Pakistan, and the answer has to be found through democratic and political solutions. The only way to save Pakistan is to have unity between thought and action. If I can come back through an electoral mandate, I know the army and bureaucracy will follow me. There is no way the military will allow Pakistan to become a failed state. But there must be checks and balances. The most important check I instituted was the National Security Council, a voice where the military could convey its views.”

Source: National Post

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