Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
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JIM LEHRER: And now our Newsmaker interview with the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf. He joins us from Blair House here in Washington.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, welcome.
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Earlier today here in Washington you said that you believe Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is alive. What was that based on?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, it was a guess. We, I can’t be 100 percent sure of it. But since we have closed on, honed on, on all those people involved in the crime and it’s only those who have kidnapped him who are left now, I thought that we are closing in on him. Other than that, I don’t, can’t be very sure about the final state. So it was just a guess.
JIM LEHRER: It was a guess. There is no evidence — concrete evidence that the man is still alive?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, no. I wouldn’t say that.
JIM LEHRER: Some people are suggesting that this kidnapping was designed to embarrass you before and during your trip to Washington, to the United States. Do you agree with that?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: This is one of the possibilities. I say there are two possibilities. One is this. Because of my actions in the domestic area in Pakistan when I’m taking action against extremism and religious intolerance, there are people who are agitated and maybe this is one of the possibilities. But the other possibility is the intrusion of Mr. Pearl himself into areas where extremism or such extremist responses were possible.
JIM LEHRER: You mean you think it maybe more designed to punish him for doing that rather than trying to embarrass you?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, I can’t be sure again. But these are the two possibilities.
JIM LEHRER: One of the suggestions was also that they were trying to demonstrate — in other words the people who took Mr. Pearl were trying to demonstrate that the government — your government does not control all of Pakistan. What do you think about that theory?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, we certainly control all of Pakistan. Whoever has perpetrated this act is in a very small minority. But they do create this nuisance. But there is no doubt that we are controlling the whole of Pakistan. This is a very ridiculous statement that is being made.
JIM LEHRER: It’s a nuisance rather than a serious challenge to you and your government, is that what you are saying?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, it’s, I mean the incident is definitely serious and the innocent reporter is involved and his life is in jeopardy. But I know that the extremists who get involved in such acts are in a minority. And we have initiated actions to curb them.
JIM LEHRER: Were you satisfied with your meetings today with President Bush and other top U.S. officials?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, indeed. I was very satisfied.
JIM LEHRER: You need some economic aid. Did you get assurances that you will, that that will be forthcoming?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, I have. We have spoken about debt forgiveness or debt write-off and also fiscal support and I’m reasonably sure or I’m very sure that these will are forthcoming.
JIM LEHRER: The debt relief, the debt write off is $3 billion in total, is that correct?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: A part of it definitely.
JIM LEHRER: Why is that so important to Pakistan?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, we have launched an economic revival plan in Pakistan. And this economic revival plan has certain requirements. It needs — the strategy we are following is to gain some space from our debt service obligations and within the space utilize all the funds available to us to invest in fast return development activity. And this is what we are doing and in this restructuring of our debt is essential and also getting fiscal support is essential.
JIM LEHRER: Did you make that point to President Bush and others that you must have this if Pakistan is going to make an economic recovery?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, I, of course, I elaborated our requirements quite clearly.
JIM LEHRER: Now, my understanding too is that you also want to buy some arms from the United States. What kind of reaction did you get to that request?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: It was a positive response. We have reached agreements on IMAC first of all. That is the training area and we are going to reestablish our contacts in that. And then there are a number of deals in the pipeline which, with the removal of the sanctions, will be initiated and we will see a breakthrough in that also.
JIM LEHRER: What kinds of armament do you need and why do you need it?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, the need of Pakistan are in relation to the deterrence that we desire against the threat that we face from the East and the needs are of course there are mainly in the air force side and that is what we are dealing.
JIM LEHRER: You mean you are talking about the threat from India?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: And you need what kind of planes, you need fighters or what, bombers, what kind of planes do you need?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, I think it’s, instead of getting involved in the exact specifics there are a lot of requirements. Yes. We definitely do require high-tech aircraft.
JIM LEHRER: Is it your position that India is better equipped militarily than Pakistan?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, indeed. They are spending a lot of money. Far more than us. They’ve increased their budget in 1999-2000 — 28 percent, and 2000-2001 by another 14 percent. They are importing weapons from all over the world. Therefore they are definitely much more equipped.
JIM LEHRER: And so your argument to the United States officials today was you must help us arm in order to deter India from taking aggressive acts against Pakistan?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, we follow a strategy of deterrence; we are a smaller force but the deterrent strategy that we follow necessitates holding off certain quantum of equipment and certain quality of equipment and certain quantum and quality of force. That is what we aim at. And it is in this direction that we are following whatever negotiations we are carrying out in the defense field.
JIM LEHRER: Now earlier today at the White House with your standing right next to him, President Bush said the answer to this is for you and your counterparts in India to sit down and start talking. Is he right about that?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Absolutely correct. Because the core issue between India and Pakistan — the dispute over Kashmir — needs to be resolved and all other issues resolved through a dialogue — process of dialogue and that will address the root cause of all this arming and confrontation that we frequently have between the two countries.
JIM LEHRER: Why is the dialogue not going on?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: It’s not going on because of the rigidity and obstinacy of India.
JIM LEHRER: It’s all India’s fault.
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, I think so.
JIM LEHRER: You are willing to sit down and talk about a solution to the Kashmir problem?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, indeed. I’ve said it so many times.
JIM LEHRER: And what do you think the problem is? What kind of answers are you getting from India what you make this proposal?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: They did, the Prime Minister Vajpayee did invite me to India once. I went in July to Agra — and we negotiated going forward through the process of dialogue towards the resolution of the Kashmir dispute particularly. We arrived together at drafting a declaration, which recognized the centrality of Kashmir dispute and the necessity of addressing it in order to improve relations between Pakistan and India. But having drafted that declaration jointly, unfortunately the Indian government backed down later saying that the cabinet did not approve it although I didn’t think that the cabinet was there at all in Agra.
JIM LEHRER: Now Secretary of State Powell and others have said that before there can be really serious talks, both sides must move their troops away from the border. Was that — did you discuss that with President Bush and did he ask to you do that today or he or Secretary Powell or some other U.S. official to ask to you consider doing that?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: We did talk about that. Immediate requirement is to deescalate on the borders. The dangers of war must be reduced. So we need to deescalate but the escalation was done by the Indian forces. They moved to the borders and as a reaction to it we also moved the troops to the borders so it can’t be one-sided. It has to be an agreement by both sides to deescalate and move the troops back.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any reason to be optimistic that this kind of loggerhead situation you are in now with India is going to lesson anytime soon? Is there anything Secretary Powell could do or President Bush could do to make this thing work a little quicker and relieve the tension?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, I did express my gratitude to President Bush for whatever he has done and doing and also particularly to Secretary Colin Powell for his personal diplomacy which has certainly facilitated reduction in the tension. But as I keep telling everyone, as long as the capability to undertake any kind of adventurism exists with the presence of the forces on the border, the situation remains explosive. I’m sure with the efforts of Secretary Colin Powell and President Bush, a lot can be done to diffuse the situation.
JIM LEHRER: But nothing is in the works as you and I are speaking now to reduction the tension, correct, between India and Pakistan themselves?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, yes, we are not talking to each other, but we are talking to each other through Secretary Colin Powell probably.
JIM LEHRER: But is that working, do you think?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, it has, it has to an extent as I said. It has worked to an extent — diffuse the situation. The rhetoric from the Indians have certainly reduced and, but the force level has not reduced, so to that extent I think that the danger still exists.
JIM LEHRER: If India were willing to reduce its forces, Pakistan would match it?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, yes, absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: There was much speculation after September 11, Mr. President, that your siding with the United States against the Taliban in Afghanistan was going to cause you serious political problems in your own country. What has been the result?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, yes, there was. There was a danger because there were conflicting views on the subject. But the overall effect of whatever we did was support by the masses. The vast majority of Pakistan thought whatever action I took and whatever decisions I took were correct.
JIM LEHRER: Do you feel they are correct? Have you had any second thoughts about the positions you took?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: No, with hindsight now after so many months — after four months having lapsed — I think we took the right decision. There were principle decisions in our national interest.
JIM LEHRER: You, of course have a military background. How do you feel about — what is your assessment of the way the United States and the coalition has, has managed the war in Afghanistan?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, I think purely from the military angle they managed it well. The results have been produced. The ultimate result of capture of Osama bin Laden still remains elusive, but overall, effect on ground of having political arrangement, conducive political arrangement is taking shape and to that extent to the benefit of Afghanistan, to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan, to having a stabilized political government functioning in Afghanistan, these are the successes of the military operation in Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: Were you personally surprised it went so fast?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: No, I don’t — I wasn’t really surprised. In an interview last time when I came to the United States I did say that it should not last that long. I knew that this result would be the natural outcome.
JIM LEHRER: And you’re comfortable being an ally of the United States in the war on terrorism generally?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, I am.
JIM LEHRER: What do you make of President Bush’s contention that Iran, Iraq and North Korea are part of an access of evil?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: I would reserve my comments on it.
JIM LEHRER: So you don’t endorse idea?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, I wouldn’t like to comment on it. These are his personal views. I wouldn’t like to comment on them.
JIM LEHRER: As you probably know since you’ve been here in the United States, that there is mounting discussion about the possibility of military action against Iraq. Would you support that if there was evidence that they were building weapons of mass destruction and were unwilling to let inspectors in, you know what the argument is.
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: I think I would prefer, I would very much prefer keeping my focus on Pakistan and to the problems in our region. We are too overloaded with problems internally and in our region to be considering or thinking about supporting or opposing whatever happens elsewhere.
JIM LEHRER: Your crackdown on as you mentioned earlier — it has been widely reported here in the United States — your crackdown on the Islamic militants in your country, is this going to continue?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, it will. Because I’ve launched — I want to remove, I want to clean the domestic environment from extremism, religious intolerance militancy, and as long as anybody is violating whatever we want to do, we’ll keep moving against them.
JIM LEHRER: Now you have promised elections are coming in October. They are still going to come in October. Correct?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Sorry?
JIM LEHRER: Presidential elections in Pakistan still set for October?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, not presidential elections.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Elections will be in October.
JIM LEHRER: Elections will be in October.
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: — the national and provincial assemblies.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. How do you see your future in terms of those elections and in terms of the future government of Pakistan?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Well, I see a role for myself because ultimately, we want to ensure that the reforms and restructuring that we are doing, there is continuity and sustainability in those. We want to ensure that there is, that that national interest is kept supreme as opposed to personal and political interests as in this past decade by the previously, by the previous governments. And we also want to ensure checks and balances in the functioning of the leadership in Pakistan. So to that extent I think I have a role to play.
JIM LEHRER: And you have said that you believe that Islam and democracy can thrive together in Pakistan. You believe that?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Yes, indeed. They are not violative of each other. They certainly, Islam is very democratic and I don’t think there is any contradiction in Islam and democracy functioning together in any part of the world.
JIM LEHRER: But Pakistan would be a secular state along what, the Turkish – the Turkey pattern? Do you have a pattern in mind in a country about which you might be interested in modeling Pakistan and its future after?
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: No, no, we are modeling it in accordance with our own environment, in accordance with the dictates of Pakistani environment, a homegrown environment, and let me say that the founders of Pakistan, our forefathers, the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, saw Pakistan as a progressive, dynamic, moderate Islamic state.
Nobody, no leadership in Pakistan can change that from Islamic state to a secular state. We are Islamic. We are an Islamic state. However that does not at all mean that it is a theocratic state. The misperception in the West probably is that Islamic state means a theocratic state. There is no room for theocracy in Islam. Therefore that is an Islamic state which has, which gives equal rights and status to minorities in the country and all people in the country.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. President, again welcome to the United States. And thank you very much.
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Thank you very much.