In a SPIEGEL interview, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, 65, discusses the dramatic situation in Pakistan, where army troops are fighting Islamist extremists in the Swat Valley, his people’s ambivalent relationship with the United States and his country’s failures in combating the Taliban.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Musharraf, there’s a bon mot that states that ruling Pakistan is like riding a tiger. You were in power for nine years. Are you bored now?
Musharraf: I recently was in Saudi Arabia, China and London giving lectures. I have engaged the famous Walker Agency …
SPIEGEL: … which Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder all work with …
Musharraf: … In Prague, I am giving a lecture on leadership in front of high-level managers at a company which owns Pizza Hut and KFC.
SPIEGEL: Pakistan is in a major state of crisis. Close to 2.5 million people have fled the areas of fighting in the northwest and the Swat Valley. There are attacks almost daily. Is Pakistan on the verge of collapse?
Musharraf: This is wrong. Nothing can happen to Pakistan as long as the armed forces are intact and strong. Anyone who wants to weaken and destabilize Pakistan just has to weaken the army and our intelligence service, ISI, and this is what is happening these days. Lots of articles have been written claiming that Pakistan will be divided, that it will fall apart or become Balkanized. I personally feel there is some kind of conspiracy going on with the goal of weakening our nation.
SPIEGEL: Who do you believe is behind this conspiracy?
Musharraf: I won’t tell you exactly because then you will ask me for evidence. I can only tell you that India, for example, has 16 insurgencies going on and nobody is making a big thing out of it. But the West always focuses on Pakistan as the problem.
SPIEGEL: United States President Barack Obama has promised a new beginning. He wants to chase and fight the Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan and has enlargened the territory of operations. What do you think of this new strategy, which he calls AfPak?
Musharraf: I am totally against the term AfPak. I do not support the word itself for two reasons: First, the strategy puts Pakistan on the same level as Afghanistan. We are not. Afghanistan has no government and the country is completely destabilized. Pakistan is not. Second, and this is much more important, is that there is an Indian element in the whole game. We have the Kashmir struggle, without which extremist elements like Lashkar-e-Taiba would not exist.
SPIEGEL: This group is believed to have been responsible for the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Why should the US strategy also include India?
Musharraf: There are many Indian extremists who have links with extremists in Pakistan. So if the world is serious about combating terrorism, then don’t leave India out. Originally, Richard Holbrooke was supposed to be the US special representative for all three countries, but the strong Indian lobby in America prevented that.
SPIEGEL: Are you disappointed by Obama?
Musharraf: No, he is aiming at the right things. He is showing intentions of improving the dialogue with the Muslim world, which is good. He is right when he says that more forces must be deployed in Afghanistan. There is an intention of increasing funding for Pakistan, which is also good. But he also has to understand the reality in Pakistan and I am not sure he does.
SPIEGEL: And how is the situation?
Musharraf: One of the realities is that the Indian intelligence service RAW is interfering in our country. For example in Balochistan, our largest province bordering Iran and Afghanistan. One of the most brutal insurgents against our forces, Brahamdagh Bugti …
SPIEGEL: … the grandson of Nawab Bugti, a tribal leader who was killed three years ago in a battle with the Pakistani army …
Musharraf: … he is sitting in Kabul, protected by the Afghan government and provided with weapons and money by the Indian intelligence agency RAW. He has his own training camps and sends his fighters to Balochistan where they terrorize people and damage the civil infrastructure. RAW is also interfering in the Swat Valley, I know that. Where do all these Taliban fighters in Swat get their arms and money from? From Afghanistan. The Indian consulates in Jallalabad and Kandahar only exist to be a thorn in the side of Pakistan.
SPIEGEL: Let us talk about the role of the ISI. A short time ago, US newspapers reported that ISI has systematically supported Taliban groups. Is that true?
Musharraf: Intelligence always has access to other networks — this is what Americans did with KGB, this is what ISI also does. You should understand that the army is on board to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida. I have always been against the Taliban. Don’t try to lecture us about how we should handle this tactically. I will give you an example: Siraj Haqqani …
SPIEGEL: … a powerful Taliban commander who is allegedly secretly allied with the ISI.
Musharraf: He is the man who has influence over Baitullah Mehsud, a dangerous terrorist, the fiercest commander in South Waiziristan and the murderer of Benazir Bhutto as we know today. Mehsud kidnapped our ambassador in Kabul and our intelligence used Haqqani’s influence to get him released. Now, that does not mean that Haqqani is supported by us. The intelligence service is using certain enemies against other enemies. And it is better to tackle them one by one than making them all enemies.
SPIEGEL: Are the Americans and the Pakistanis still even pursuing the same goals?
Musharraf: The Americans are hated in the country today. The US drone attacks, which we have been living with for months now, are most unpopular — there is no doubt about it. Regardless whether they are killing terrorists, Taliban or Al-Qaida-figures or not, there are too many civilian victims. The deployment of drones has to be stopped.
SPIEGEL: The US military eliminated several high-ranking al-Qaida figures through drone attacks. What would be a possible alternative?
Musharraf: We have to find a way or method with which the Pakistani army could conduct these attacks itself. There would immediately be much better acceptance amongst the populace and we would cause less collateral damage and there would be fewer civilian victims.
SPIEGEL: If you were still in power, would you order attacks against powerful Taliban leaders?
Musharraf: I would not hesitate one second.
SPIEGEL: Even attacks on Taliban chief Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden or influential Haqqani?
Musharraf: Certainly. The only thing I was concerned about was apprehending Osama bin Laden and putting him on trial within Pakistan. You need to understand the sensitivities in our country.
SPIEGEL: You yourself have been accused of distinguishing between good and bad Taliban — those fighting against Western and Afghan forces and those who attack the Pakistani army and police.
Musharraf: That is wrong, I fought all of them without distinction. But please understand that every action has political repercussions. You accuse me of not having taken action, but things are not always black and white — sometimes they are gray. I will give you an example, the Red Mosque, where religious militants assembled with their students in July 2007. Why didn’t I attack them earlier? The Red Mosque is located in an area that, politically, is dominated by Jamaat-i-Islami, a party which can bring masses of people to the streets all over Pakistan …
SPIEGEL: … and a party which in former times had been your political partner …
Musharraf: No, they have never been our political partner. Please understand, there are 14 madrasses in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. There would have been social unrest if we had immediately attacked the Red Mosque. We wanted to avoid a bloody tragedy and solve it peacefully. But we didn’t succeed and in the end we had to act. We undertook a military operation that resulted in under 100 deaths. There is currently a parallel case in Karachi. We know there is a madrassa with armed militants inside in a neighborhood called Banoori Town. Shall we go there, collect the weapons and just kill them all? Yes, it can be done. But then we would provoke significant ethnic vilence in Karachi. Therefore, it is not appropriate to do this at this time.
SPIEGEL: Is Pakistan now paying for its earlier failures? Why didn’t you eliminate the Taliban leadership when they came to Pakistan at the end of 2001 — above all the so-called Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s highest decision-making council, in the Pakistani city Quetta?
Musharraf: The Quetta Shura never existed. Do you really think there is an assembly in a kind of a house where they come and discuss things in something like a regular consultation? Mullah Omar never was in Pakistan and he would be mad if he appeared there. He is much safer in Afghanistan.
SPIEGEL: Over the last eight years, Pakistan has received about $10 billion in military aid from the US. Apparently you didn’t spend all that money on the war on terror — some went to secure your eastern border with India. Is that true?
Musharraf: Half of it, $5 billion, was reimbursed to us for services we had already rendered to the US. You have to understand how the Pakistan army operates: The divisions keep moving. If we buy new tanks for $250 million, then they will be deployed in Peshawar as part of the war on terror, but they will also go to the eastern border. But why do you care about that? Why, for heaven’s sake, should I tell you how we spent the money?
SPIEGEL: The American government would surely be interested in knowing.
Musharraf: I also told the Americans that it has nothing to do with them. We are not obligated to give out any details. Maybe I should have said at the time: Ok, you want us to support you, give us $20 billion a year and don’t ask what we are doing with it.
SPIEGEL: Why is it so hard for Pakistan to recognize the war against terror as its own war?
Musharraf: I do agree, they do not accept this war as their war. This has something to do with history. Please understand the reason, and you should blame the US for it. From 1979 to 1989, we fought a war with the US in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. And we won mainly because of ISI. Otherwise, the Soviet Union could not have been defeated in Afghanistan. But then the US left us all alone with 30,000 mujahedeen brought by them. Even Osama bin Laden was brought by the US, who else? They all came to fight the Soviet Union. So, did anybody in Washington develop a strategy for what to do with these people after 1989? No, nobody helped Pakistan for the next 12 years until 2001. We were left high and dry, with 30,000 mujahedeen holed up, no rehabilitation, no resettlement for them. No assistance was given to Pakistan — instead sanctions were imposed against us. Fourty F-16s, for which we had paid money, were denied to us. Four million Afghan refugees had also come to Pakistan. The mujahedeed coalesced into al-Qaida and our social fabric was being completely destroyed. This is why the people of Pakistan felt used by the Americans, and this is why Pakistanis dislike the US and this war.
SPIEGEL: Even today, you are one of George W. Bush’s last friends. Al-Qaida leaders like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, and logistics director Abu el-Subaida, were arrested and then tortured on Pakistani soil. In retrospect, do you consider this to have been an error?
Musharraf: I would not like to comment. I would just like to say that I am completely against torture. People in the West have to understand that we were not fighting a war in Germany or the United Kingdom. Under very unusual circumstances we had to deal with people who were vicious. You should not get into details of how we were fighting, how we were handling the war.
SPIEGEL: Terrorism, military coups, territoral conflicts — since its independence 62 years ago, Pakistan has been in a state of perpetual crisis. But you did come close to solving at least one problem in secret negotiations with India: the conflict in Kashmir. What went wrong in the end?
Musharraf: We were close to an agreement with India. My proposal was the demilitarization of the disputed area, self-governance and a mutual overwatch. The key irritant was the line of control which the Indians wanted to make permanent. I said we should make it irrelevant by opening transit routes. And that is where the situation stands.
SPIEGEL: A few weeks ago, you visited New Delhi and said India and Pakistan have done enough damage to each other and that it is time to find a solution. Do you view yourself as as a future ambassador for peace between the two countries?
Musharraf: If the Pakistan government wants me and if the Indians also trust me, then I can be of some use.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Musharraf, we thank for this interview.