(This interview with former President Musharraf had been conducted in 2011 in London. Parts of it appeared in the same year on Limes, Italian Review of Geopolitics and L'Espresso. This is Part 1 of the entire two-part series of the full chat.)
"I'm sorry but I have to get ready, I have to give a speech via a video link to about ten thousand people waiting in a square in Lahore." Ex-President Former General Pervez Musharraf was in high spirits, relaxed and calm when after about an hour of friendly chit-chat, he set out to put on something less informal than the gray shirt printed in small reddish-brown patterns he was wearing.
Since last October when he officially announced the founding of his political party, and his return to Pakistan to run in the upcoming elections, much of his time had been devoted to managing a widespread campaign conducted from his office and home in London. It was a self-imposed exile, however, which should soon end to bring Musharraf back to the center of the country's political life and, if possible, to power.
Pervez's Pakistan Connect
The man who invented democratic dictatorship still believes in his personal recipe of 'enlightened moderation' and strong leadership, and is set to once again put himself "at the service of Pakistan" to try to save, the 'land of the pure' from descending into the now overcited chaos in which it is in danger of drowning forever, dragging a good chunk of the geopolitical area with it.
This return will coincide with the probable end of a parable, the war in Afghanistan, in which the ex-president was along with George W Bush, a major player.
Do you still believe that you did the right thing by allying with the West in the war on terror?
Absolutely. I did what was right for Pakistan, for the good of Pakistan. Pakistan did not want Al Qaeda or the Taliban, it was in our interest to fight them.
And now President Karzai has officially stated, and Washington has confirmed, that the United States and other countries have begun to deal with the Taliban. What do you think about that?
That they started doing it too late, because the situation is very different from a few years ago. The Taliban are no longer a single block but have morphed into a real galaxy. Mullah Omar is a Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud and the Tehrik-i-Taliban are Taliban, Haqqani and his people can be called Taliban, as can Hekmathyar. I don't know which Taliban the US has started talking to, but if there are openings toward a rapprochement that's fine.
Ten years of conflict to bring Taliban and warlords back into the government..
There was a time between 2002 and 2004, when it would really have been possible to remove the Taliban from the Afghan scene. They had been defeated, dispersed, and had taken refuge in Pakistan. There was a power vacuum in Afghanistan that could have been filled by moving from arms to politics and starting to talk to Pashtun leaders.
Because it is true that the Taliban are Pashtuns, but not all Pashtuns are Taliban. At that time, it would have been possible to deal with the Pashtun leaders and install a government formed by them. It could not or would not be done, and the result was that many more Pashtuns joined the Taliban. Now it is too late, and seeking the political solution by dealing with the same Taliban that you tried to fight, has become inevitable.
The Taliban Conundrum & Afghanistan Conflict
So in the end, 10 years after 9/11, it will end in the same way it started with Talibans in Kabul.
Well, I call this a great blunder, one of the blunders, a missed opportunity after 9/11. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda were defeated, their command structure was broken and they ran into Pakistan in mountains and cities of Pakistan. In Afghanistan, there was a wild victory which came with the help of Northern Alliance which was a minority—Uzbek, Tajiks, Hazaras.
The Taliban were Pashtun, so there was no Pashtun now in the government in Afghanistan. Now at that time, after the military declared victory and created an environment where the Taliban were all Al-Qaeda dispersed. We should have switched to the political means to get Pashtun on board to put a legitimate Pashtun-dominated government in Kabul. This we did not do. This the US did not do.
Although I have been saying to get Pashtun on board because they are the ones who have governed Afghanistan for centuries. Never has any minority done that. Unfortunately, this opportunity was available from 2002 to 2004 when the Taliban resurgence started. For two years this vacuum continued, this opportunity was there, we should have taken Pashtun away from the Taliban and put them in government, we did not do that, so now after eight years, we are doing the same.
We have now pushed all Pashtuns who are Taliban and now trying to deal with the Taliban. This is the blunder that we committed, the missed opportunity between 2002-2004 and now we call them Taliban. I prefer calling them Pashtun.
It seems, according to you, that the only big result of War on Terror has been to completely destabilise Pakistan.
Well Pakistan has been the victim of all that has happened in Afghanistan right from 1979 when the Soviet came, and invaded Afghanistan. We fought a jihad against the Soviet for 10 years from 1979-1989. We brought Mujahideens from the Muslim world. We sent in Taliban having armed and trained them. So this 10 years of religious militancy was introduced in Afghanistan and it had its impact on Pakistan.
And then, from 1989 to 2001 for 12 years, this area was abandoned and there was no rehabilitation, or re-settlement of Taliban, of Mujahideen, they became Al-Qaeda and then in 1996, Taliban came up. Pakistan was all alone for 12 years. Four million refugees came into Pakistan. The religious militancy in Pakistan has been a result of all that has been happening in Afghanistan all these years. And now if we are dealing with the Taliban, unless we deal in a manner that will leave a stable, non-aggressive Afghanistan, then it is very good. But if we are leaving it to Taliban who are going to project their aggression or expand & project their religious thoughts, across the border into Pakistan and into India, then it is going to be a very dangerous situation.
The Kashmir Question
But the Taliban didn't go to India: those are the Lashkar e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, not Talibans.
No, but they will start to do it. In 1989, the Kashmiri freedom struggle started and has gathered tremendous public support from Pakistan. All these organisations called Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM), and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) are the products of the decade of 90s. They still exist and have public support. Now, previously, they were oriented towards Kashmir, Taliban was oriented towards Afghanistan. Now they are developing a nexus and also extremists in Pakistan society have developed a nexus with the Taliban. So it has become one complex situation where we have to resolve Afghanistan and we have to resolve Kashmir dispute also so that these Mujahideen groups which have emerged, go down. So it’s a complex situation now, much more than it was in the beginning.
But you played a role in all this. In the rise of Taliban & Jihadis.
Yes, I did. My role was to contain them and defeat them. In my time, there was Al-Qaeda, they ran into Pakistan. We moved against Al-Qaeda very strongly. We caught all the dozens of Al-Qaeda leadership, other than Osama Bin Laden have been caught in Pakistan. Our Pakistani troops caught them.
There was intelligence cooperation, but action was taken by Pakistan troops always. We did not completely defeat them but we undermined the strength of Al-Qaeda.
Post-Taliban emergence, we were containing extremism in our society. And we were also containing Mujahideen groups going into Kashmir because there was a political rapprochement between me and the Indian leadership. We were trying to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Therefore, we have to understand. There is a compartment of Mujahideen activity in Kashmir, there is a compartment of extremists in Pakistan society.
There is a compartment of Talibani Pakistan trying to Talibanise the country and there is a compartment of Al-Qaeda. We have separate compartments and each needs a separate treatment. We were giving a separate treatment—military, political, socio-economic and that’s what I was aiming at.
Who is ruling Pakistan now?
Everyone (laughs). There is a dysfunctional government, unfortunately, an extremely complicated situation. As I said on terrorism and more complicated as the economy is going down, it is failing. So when that is the case, you can’t do anything for the people. Whenever, there is energy crisis, people are on the streets. If you are not doing poverty alleviation, employment generation is not there, then people are on the streets. It has become a terribly complex situation. And unfortunately, the government is not showing any capability to deal with it.
What about Osama bin Laden’s death?
It is terrible, from the Pakistani point of view and so is from Pakistan Army’s, ISI’s reputation point of view. Another aspect which is more terrible, is the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. When the American troops came across and killed him and went back. Now, this is a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. In Pakistan, I think this has been taken more seriously and has affected Pakistan Army’s reputation more than the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Don’t you think that a deal had been made between the Pakistan Army and US to capture and kill Osama bin Laden?
What do you mean ‘deal’?
I mean it is quite unbelievable that a helicopter comes from Afghanistan, carries out an operation for 40 minutes and goes back to military base and nobody reacts?
It is possible if I were to give my military analysis on this. It is not a garrison. It’s a military academy which is not committed to operations and was doing its own training. There are other training centers in Abbottabad who are training the recruits. And secondly, helicopter flying in that area is quite common.
At night, two or three helicopters come from across the border from the West and why they were not seen; it is very much possible because there is no radar coverage in the western border or very less radar coverage. Our radar coverage at high and low levels, is on the eastern border against the main threat from India and not on the western border. Even if radar coverage is there on the western border, mountain ranges have ‘dead zones’ where it will not pick up any intrusion.
Thirdly, the helicopters were stealth helicopters as I read in magazines, which cannot be picked up on radar. It is, therefore, possible that helicopters fly at night and nobody knows whether these are American or Pakistani helicopters. Everybody took it as a normal helicopter flight. After the firing started, the reaction does not take place immediately. Nobody picks up a phone and talks to Army Chief and Air Force Chief and start the jets flying. People go around to investigate who is firing around. This takes time. Certainly, it is possible that the reaction is not there.
You have to thank God Indians did not think to do the same.
Indians are not capable of doing it. They are not strong enough to do this and Pakistan will teach them a lesson if they ever try.
Now Pakistan is completely in the hands of Intelligence agencies. What’s going on with David case since January?
Pakistan is not in the hands of intelligence agencies. I would say a clear direction, a clear policy is not being given to the intelligence. Everyone thinks that it is a government within a government. ISI is as RAW of India, Mossad of Israel, CIA of US—just the same, does exactly the same. Direction and policy to them must be clear. Why were these things not happening in my time because of clear directions?
Policy directions were clear. All intelligence agencies used to meet every week under DG, ISI to coordinate on the policies set by the government, by me. If they are doing anything, I told them to do it. The government policies were very clear. Unfortunately, at this moment when the government policies are vague and ambiguous, then the intelligence is itself confused. US people, thousands of people coming with visas without any checks, Black Waters, who is Black Waters? Why should they come to Pakistan? This is a violation of our sovereignty. Why should we allow? Don’t we have our own forces? I think this all confusion being created through lack of a cohesive policy and that is the responsibility of the government. If the policy is not there, ISI is functioning on their own. There is no problem with ISI. The government must take control. They are officered by Army; officer of Lt General/Major General can be removed, so how come they do anything on their own. The government must enforce its writ and must be clear in its policies and directives and ISI will fall in line. It has to.
Continued in Part 2..
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)
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