‘Pakistan is Always Seen as the Rogue’
Pakistan trained militant underground groups to fight against India in Kashmir, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted in an interview with SPIEGEL. In addition, the 67-year-old explains why he wants to leave his exile in London and return to his country.
SPIEGEL: Pakistanis have been left bewildered by the incompetence of the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari in dealing with the consequences of the disastrous floods. Do you expect another military coup soon?
Musharraf: Whenever the country is in turmoil, everybody looks to the army. But I would suggest that the times of military coups in Pakistan are over. The latest political developments have shown that the Supreme Court has set a bar on itself not to validate a military takeover.
SPIEGEL: How would you judge the performance of your successor, Zardari, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani?
Musharraf: I do not want to comment on the present government, but everybody can see what they are doing. Pakistan is experiencing a deep economic decline — in other areas, as well. Law and order are in jeopardy, extremism is on the rise and there is political turmoil. The non-performance of an elected government is the issue.
SPIEGEL: How do you view the role of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the man considered to be pulling the strings in Pakistan?
Musharraf: I made him chief of the army, because I thought that he was the best man for the job.
SPIEGEL: When Pakistan’s rulers lose power, they traditionally get imprisoned or murdered by their rivals. Why are you founding a party to, once again, get involved in politics instead of enjoying retirement in London, which is at least a safe place?
Musharraf: No risk, no gain. We unfortunately have a culture of vendetta and vindictiveness in Pakistan. But there is no case of corruption or fraud or anything against me at the moment. My political opponents, especially Nawaz Sharif, would love to create a case against me — that I am corrupt or have committed fraud or some such. They do their best to achieve that, but they haven’t succeeded. Even if they did, I would reply in court. Risks need to be taken.
SPIEGEL: Why do you believe that Pakistanis are keenly awaiting your political comeback?
Musharraf: I am not living a hermit’s life, I meet people here and in Dubai and receive accurate feedback. I launched my Facebook page eight months ago and today I have more than 315,000 fans. And hundreds of Pakistanis called into a TV show in which I collected money for the flood victims. They donated $3.5 million. Do you think they are doing this because they hate me?
SPIEGEL: Is there anything that you regret — for example, your secret Kargil Operation, which led to an armed conflict with India in 1999, your arbitrary changes to Pakistan’s constitution, your dismissal of the country’s highest judge, the lack of concern for Benazir Bhutto’s life after her return or your oft-criticized mild treatment of religious militants?
Musharraf: The West blames Pakistan for everything. Nobody asks the Indian prime minister, Why did you arm your country with a nuclear weapon? Why are you killing innocent civilians in Kashmir? Nobody was bothered that Pakistan got split in 1971 because of India’s military backing for Bangladesh (which declared independence from Pakistan that year). The United States and Germany gave statements, but they didn’t mean anything. Everybody is interested in strategic deals with India, but Pakistan is always seen as the rogue.
SPIEGEL: Why did you form militant underground groups to fight India in Kashmir?
Musharraf: They were indeed formed. The government turned a blind eye because they wanted India to discuss Kashmir.
SPIEGEL: It was the Pakistani security forces that trained them.
Musharraf: The West was ignoring the resolution of the Kashmir issue, which is the core issue of Pakistan. We expected the West — especially the United States and important countries like Germany — to resolve the Kashmir issue. Has Germany done that?
‘I’m Earning Good Money Here in London, But Pakistan Is My Country’
SPIEGEL: Does that give Pakistan the right to train underground fighters?
Musharraf: Yes, it is the right of any country to promote its own interests when India is not prepared to discuss Kashmir at the United Nations and is not prepared to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner.
SPIEGEL: And how can a nuclear arsenal be safe when high-ranking officers support proliferation or even personally profit from it, as has been alleged? The nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan claims that the Pakistani army monitored and organized deals with countries like North Korea and Iran.
Musharraf: That is wrong, absolutely wrong. Mr. Khan is a characterless man.
SPIEGEL: What did the United States offer you in exchange for getting control of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan?
Musharraf: I would be a traitor if I had ever given our nuclear weapons to the United States. This capability is our pride and it will never be compromised.
SPIEGEL: A German member of the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, 36-year-old Ahmad Sidiqi, who has been held by US forces in Afghanistan since July, allegedly told his American interrogators that he was trained in Pakistan and confessed there were plans to attack Europe. Why, nine years after 9/11, does Pakistan remain a breeding ground for international terrorism?
Musharraf: We poisoned Pakistani civil society for 10 years when we fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was jihad and we brought in militants from all over the world, with the West and Pakistan together in the lead role. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, the West left Pakistan with 25,000 mujahedeen and al-Qaida fighters, without any plan for rehabilitation or resettlement. While you were mostly concerned with the reunification of Germany, we had to cope with this. Now you expect Pakistan to pull out a magic wand and make all of this suddenly disappear? That is not doable — this will take time.
SPIEGEL: How can the problem be solved?
Musharraf: The West made three blunders so far: After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, they abandoned the region in 1989. Then, after 9/11, they fought the Taliban instead of strengthening the Pashtuns who could have taken on the radical Taliban. Now you try to negotiate with so-called “moderate Taliban,” but there is no such thing as a moderate Taliban. There are Taliban and Pashtuns. But as I have always said: All Taliban are Pashtun, but not all Pashtun people are Taliban. Again, you should reinforce the ancient Pashtun clans who are not ideologically aligned with the Taliban to govern Afghanistan and to fight the Taliban. That’s my strong advice. The fourth and worst blunder would be to quit without winning. Then militancy will prevail not only in Pakistan, India and Kashmir, but perhaps also in Europe, the United Kingdom and in the United States. That’s my belief.
SPIEGEL: The al-Qaida chief in Pakistan, Sheikh Fateh al Masri, was recently killed in a US drone attack in North Waziristan. Many al-Qaida leaders are sheltered by the Haqqani network (of warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani). How serious is Pakistan about fighting a former mujahedeen heroes like Haqqani and his son Siraj?
Musharraf: If you hear the new statements from the West that they plan to withdraw their troops and leave Afghanistan in 2011, then Pakistan should think of how to handle the withdrawal scenario. Pakistan needs to find a strategy for its existence, how to tackle the situation with Seraj Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Pakistani Taliban and Mullah Omar. When the West quits, we will be on our own with them.
SPIEGEL: Do you not fear that when you return to Pakistan, you might face the same fate as Benazir Bhutto, who was murdered in a suicide attack?
Musharraf: Yes, that is a risk, but it won’t stop me. I am happy here in London. I am earning good money, but Pakistan is my country.
Interview conducted by Susanne Koelbl