The Pakistani View
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GWEN IFILL: Joining me is Ambassador Maleeha Lodi. Welcome.
MALEEHA LODHI: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s start with President Bush’s words today. Among other things, he said the United States expects Pakistan to live up to the commitment Pakistan has made to end all support for terrorism. Why was it necessary for the President of the United States to issue that warning again today? And what is your response to it?
MALEEHA LODHI: I think you have to look at what President Bush has said in its entirety. He’s talked about Pakistan, and he’s also talked about the need for the two countries to avert a conflict. Now, we for our part have stood by our commitment and will continue to stand by our commitment that our soil and territory will not be used by anybody to carry out terrorist attacks against anybody else in the world.
What we need to see from India is also responding to the call of President Bush and the rest of the international community, and everybody is asking India to shed the use of force or the threat of the use of force as an option. We’ve seen no indication so far that India is prepared to shed war as an option, because the war rhetoric continues and a very dangerous military buildup by India continues.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s follow up on what Pakistan’s responsibility is on this. The White House seems to be suggesting that President Musharraf has not done all he could to end support for terrorism — to end infiltration across the border and the line of control in Kashmir.
MALEEHA LODHI: I think you have to look at this issue in its proper perspective, which is my president, my government, has taken a series of steps which are, we believe, in Pakistan supreme national interests. We haven’t taken these steps because somebody has asked us to do so. We’ve taken these steps because it’s in our interest to counter militancy and to counter terrorism, and as you know, Pakistan has long been afflicted and has been a target of terrorism itself.
So we have banned militant organizations, we have sealed the offices of militant organizations. We’ve arrested hundreds of people, and we’ve also frozen the bank accounts of such organizations. Now, as you know, these sorts of steps when my country has been situated in such a dangerous part of the world where we’ve seen two protracted conflicts in our region to our East and to our West, we’ve got to have time, and this is a process which takes place over a period of time to come to terms and to come to grips with this problem. But it does not help if we have a neighbor to our East, which threatens war all the time, which stands on our doorsteps, as it were, and threatens war.
GWEN IFILL: The neighbor to your East has also suggested that joint patrols along the line of control involving both Pakistani and Indian troops, is that something that you object to or would agree to or consider?
MALEEHA LODHI: We have heard this proposal made at a press conference by Prime Minister Vajpayee. If this is a serious proposal it should be made to us. It only underscores the need for the two countries to have a dialogue. We’d like to discuss this, as indeed our own proposal, which is we have called for a neutral, impartial monitoring force along the line of control — because if tomorrow if India says one thing, which indeed is happening right now, and we say another, who is to decide which claim is correct?
I think the time has come for the international community to step forward and not just play a role in crisis management. It ought to play a role to ensure that the next crisis doesn’t happen, and therefore conflict resolution is what we call for. I think time and history already has shown the peril that the world faces if there are unresolved political disputes. And the unresolved political dispute is the one over Kashmir, the fact that the people of Kashmir were never given the right that was promised to them by U.N. Security Council resolutions, on which I must tell you there is no statute of limitations.
There are resolutions dating back from 1948, calling for the people of Kashmir to exercise their right of self-determination, which roughly means that they should have their democratic right to decide their destiny. The time has come for the world to deliver on solemn pledges that were made to the people Kashmir. Kashmir is no piece of real estate, let me tell you. It’s about people, and it’s about the people’s democratic right to determine how they want to live, who they want to be governed by.
GWEN IFILL: But a moment ago you mentioned the international community’s response, and responsibility in terms of managing a crisis. As you know, the crisis that the international community is most immediately concerned about is the prospect, the possibility of nuclear war. How close are Pakistan and India to nuclear war?
MALEEHA LODHI: Well, I think nuclear war to even talk about it would be hugely irresponsible. I think it’s unthinkable, it’s unimaginable. Pakistan has been advocating the part of peace and dialogue. The stakes are far too high in our region. The stakes are high also because of what Secretary Rumsfeld recently said. He talked about these South Asian tensions being a distraction, and he’s absolutely right; we agree.
Of course it will be a distraction, it may hamper and damage our joint struggle to make sure that al-Qaida or the remnants of al-Qaida do not pose a threat to the United States, to the world, and of course to Pakistan, which is in the direct line of fire from al-Qaida elements.
GWEN IFILL: So are you suggesting that no one should be contemplating the possibility of nuclear war?
MALEEHA LODHI: I think to even talk about nuclear war is a very irresponsible thing to do. I think we should be talking about how to pursue dialogue, how to pursue a peaceful resolution of this crisis.
Pakistan stands for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis. Pakistan welcomes the visit of Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage to the region. This represents the high point of U.S. diplomacy, and we hope that this diplomacy will yield the results that we would all like to see, and we would like to see a peaceful resolution of this crisis.
GWEN IFILL: Among other things, it has been reported that Deputy Secretary Armitage plans to talk very tough with President Musharraf about his ability to control the seepage, as it were, across that line of control, the number of Kashmiri militants who are allowed to carry out attacks in India. Is President Musharraf even capable of controlling that?
MALEEHA LODHI: You know, I’ve been asked this question a couple of times in the last few days, and I have said that President Musharraf came through, he delivered, he was very much the man in charge when the United States and the rest of the global coalition came to us and asked us to be a front-line state in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
In fact the success of that operation could not have been achieved without Pakistan. The success of that operation could not have been attained without President Musharraf being in charge, and without President Musharraf delivering on his word. He’s a man of his word. But it takes two to tango, it takes two to make peace, it takes two to get into negotiations.
We will do our part, but we are watching to see how the international community will make India respond to the call of the international community for restraint and to desist from military brinksmanship, military blackmail and military intimidation, which is what we think India has been doing in recent days and recent months.
GWEN IFILL: Assuming for a moment, as you say, that nuclear, the nuclear button is off the table, but that there is still the possibility of conventional warfare, what will trigger that? What kind of aggression will trigger the kind of retaliation, which people in the United States and other countries worry could lead to nuclear war?
MALEEHA LODHI: Well, I think to begin with, a great deal of the talk about nuclear war that is going on seems to be based on the premise that because Pakistan is somehow conventionally weak, it will respond in a certain way. Nothing could be further from the truth. We in Pakistan feel we have adequate conventional means to deter aggression by India.
Let’s not forget how this crisis started. This crisis started by the fact that India deployed an unprecedented number of troops and naval and air assets against Pakistan. We don’t think the two countries, which happen to be nuclear powers, should settle their differences in this manner. War is not the answer. Military solution is not the answer. Peace is the answer; dialogue is the answer.
And a diplomatic resolution of the crisis is the answer, and that is what President Bush is calling for, and we’re saying yes, President Bush, we agree with you, yes, Secretary Powell, we agree with you, and yes to the international community, we will deliver on our side of what we have committed to do because as I said, we’ve committed our country to fighting terrorism.
GWEN IFILL: You talk about a diplomatic resolution; a few moments ago you said it takes two to tango. All that said, why no handshake in Kazakhstan at the meeting this weekend between Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf?
MALEEHA LODHI: Because the last time at the summit when President Musharraf extended his hand and he actually took the initiative to shake hands with Prime Minister Vajpayee, we didn’t think that that brought about any reciprocity. It has to be reciprocal, and we are waiting India’s reciprocity to the many overtures and the many offers that we made.
President Musharraf sitting in Kazakhstan actually offered unconditional talks. He offered to talk there and then, he offered to talk anywhere, anyplace at any level with India. And that is what the international community is also calling for. We hope that India will also respond to Mr. Armitage’s call for dialogue and for a diplomatic resolution of this crisis.
GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Lodhi, thank you very much for joining us.
MALEEHA LODHI: Thank you for having me.