Newsmaker: Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
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ROBERT MACNEIL: Mr. President, thank you for joining us.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Thank you.
ROBERT MACNEIL: From your own information sources can you describe what you understand is the situation on the ground in Afghanistan now? It seems to be changing hourly.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, I would like to just concentrate on the change that has taken place through the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif. I think that’s the change that has occurred.
Otherwise, the situation is as it was, Taliban was through the Northern Alliance. But this change with the Northern Alliance captured in Mazar-e-Sharif is significant from a political level and military point of view, a military point of view because it gives two airfields in the hands of the Northern Alliance and the coalition… and from political point of view, this is the first reverse suffered by the Taliban.
It can have further reverberation or reactions within — negative fallout within the Taliban ranks in that those who were sitting on the fence may be – get encouraged to change sides and drive maybe against the Taliban government.
ROBERT MACNEIL: The wire services are reporting that the Northern Alliance forces have entered Herat in the West and also that they’ve approached within just a few miles of Kabul, north of Kabul.
Can you confirm that, and also that the Taliban appear to be leaving Kabul in large numbers by vehicles in the director of Kandahar? Those are the latest wire service reports.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: These are the wire service reports. I am getting them from the television, frankly. I would like to confirm them when I get back to the – to Pakistan.
But Herat is certainly a possibility because it’s a stronghold of General Ishmael, who is a Tajik — but therefore — this is a Tajik area — it wouldn’t surprise me if he is active there.
On the other side, the convoys moving from Kabul or some progress being made by Northern Alliance towards Kabul is dangerous to an extent, dangerous because we are now getting information that there are certain atrocities being committed in Mazar-e-Sharif.
And that is accepting my apprehension that we have seen a lot of atrocities, a lot of killings between the various ethnic groups in Kabul after the Soviets left, and that’s why we are of the opinion that Kabul should be maintained as a de-militarized city. That is very tough.
ROBERT MACNEIL: What kind of atrocities are you hearing reported in Mazar-e Sharif?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, one heard some information that there are some revenge killings.
Obviously revenge killings must be between the Taliban or the Pashtuns versus the Tajiks or Uzbeks I would say. This is dangerous, and it is dangerous because it will reinforce and strengthen the Pashtuns against the Northern Alliance.
ROBERT MACNEIL: And make it less likely that Pashtun ethnics leave support of the Taliban or abandon the Taliban, which is what you’re hoping will happen, is that correct?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes, that can do it. I would say the scarlet thread — in the military in operation we say there’s a scarlet thread to every operation, and strategically one must understand what that scarlet thread is, and the scarlet thread here happens to be you have to have Pashtun acceptance of a change, because Northern Alliance is a composite of minority groups.
The majority Pashtun is not visible, so this change has to take place within the ranks of Afghans. This needs to be facilitated. It needs to be encouraged, and I’m afraid any Northern Alliance undo successes or an undo over support of the Northern Alliance can conquer this strategic…
ROBERT MACNEIL: Do you think the U.S. has over-supported the Northern Alliance to date?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: I think I can get a clear understanding of realities on that.
ROBERT MACNEIL: Yes.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: I think maybe the strategy that is being followed I think is quite appropriate.
ROBERT MACNEIL: Do you think the Taliban show signs of collapsing, or are they just tactically withdrawing to mount a stronger defense of Kabul or Kandahar?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, one can’t say that. But I personally feel that with the knowledge that we have of the realities in the Taliban ranks, the homogeneity of any force is through communication infrastructure, through communication.
I can’t imagine that there is any kind of effective communication between the central command of Taliban going to the sector and within the sectors between the sector commanders and sub-sector commanders. This is a big country.
ROBERT MACNEIL: You mean because U.S. bombing has destroyed that communication?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Destroyed…line communication was non-existence. There could then have been wireless communication – I know that they don’t have much wireless communication effects available, they are very primitive, and the mobile telephones are destroyed.
All you’ve got left is satellite communication — that may be – that can also be controlled. I’m reasonably sure there’s been no homogeneity within the ranks of the Taliban fronts, the various sectors, the sub-sectors.
So I can’t imagine that the linkages between the frontlines with their commands may be on motivation and their affiliation – allegiance to their command. Otherwise, they are independent sectors maybe not united through a common infrastructure. Maybe they are withdrawing to reestablish that.
ROBERT MACNEIL: If the Northern Alliance are at the gates of Kabul, should the U.S. Bombing stop now?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, it depends where you are bombing and what you are bombing. The strategical threat is – the strategical threat is about personalities really – individuals and groups when you’re talking of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government, these are personalities and which are the objectives, and you’re attacking the fronts, that is the Talkiban fronts you are attacking for a certain purpose – maybe the purpose was to get Mazar-e-Sharif, and that was why you were bombing that area.
Now it depends what the military strategy is — the intermediate objectives are, and the bombing should shift accordingly.
ROBERT MACNEIL: If a reporter from the Pakistani newspaper, Da’an, can get to Osama bin Laden, why can’t Pakistani intelligence find him or help the U.S. to find him? Why if a newspaper reporter gets taken there can’t somebody else?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: There’s a general suspicion on – it’s surprising that maybe ISI is not contributing –
ROBERT MACNEIL: ISI, which is your CIA.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: — to the intelligence, yes — to the intelligence. Now it’s not that simple. After all, then you send in people. They’re on the other side; they know who they are, and they know what they have come for.
We saw the fate of General Abdul Huk who was sent there – he went there to do something, and he was tortured.
So it’s not that easy that you send your operatives in and find locations. One is trying one’s best for that – but if a reporter goes through contact – through some contact and, after all, Osama bin Laden’s purpose is to project himself in some way and create some negative effects in the world, that maybe he would welcome receiving a reporter and projecting whatever his thoughts are.
ROBERT MACNEIL: But your ISI, even if his reputation was exaggerated, must have known a lot about the cave structure in Afghanistan, where the caves — the Taliban are – used are. Have they shared all that, all the knowledge you have, or are there lower ranks in the ISI who are still Taliban sympathizers?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: No, I don’t think so at all.
As far as cave and cave structures these are visible through the satellite photographs and all the surveillance devices, all the – that are being flown, there’s no doubt in my mind that every exact location is known. The question is, which ones are being occupied, then you are talking of human targets. It’s very easy to change the cave. It’s not that you occupy anything permanently so they are changeable.
And secondly one can’t even be very sure that they are in caves- why we – it’s best to hide – some house – changing houses – so I really cannot be sure where they are, and I – let me assure you that as far as I know, it could be shared, and no doubt in this.
And let me also say with some confidence that the coalition is very satisfied with the ISI performance and ISI cooperation.
ROBERT MACNEIL: You mean Washington is satisfied?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes.
ROBERT MACNEIL: Is there any progress in the last few days on creating a successor regime of all ethnic groups for Afghanistan, a kind of provisional government to take over if the Taliban were removed from power, any progress?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: There is thinking along these lines. The two important events that have taken place is first of all the sitting council, which has been thought of as between King Zahir Shah and the Northern Alliance – a sitting council of 120 members — the other important piece, of course, is Northern Alliance, which means Pashtun are missing in this.
The other is the Peshawar convention; a convention held and called by Gilani, who’s a Pashtun. This was a multiethnic convention. A lot of people attended from all ethnic groups. These are two important events, which have taken place. Now there’s an idea of maybe developing a nexus between these two, which will be multiethnic.
Then further ideas on developing the political strategy are taking place. I think there’s progress on the theoretical crystallization of the political strategy, which needs to be homegrown, may I say, which needs to be accepted by the Taliban and homegrown by the – by the Pashtun – by the Afghans themselves.
ROBERT MACNEIL: This process, which has been underway for some weeks now, if not longer, is taking – may take a lot longer.
In the meantime you in Washington don’t want the Northern Alliance to enter Kabul until there’s some entity in place to replace the Taliban, that’s correct, isn’t it?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes.
ROBERT MACNEIL: Can the Northern Alliance, all its various factions, can it be restrained from entering if they’re so close now?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: I think they can be, because I think this is a very disparate group. There is no cohesion in that force also because Tajiks and Uzbeks are not such great friends; they have been fighting each other, so, therefore, and they depend on total support of the coalition force, I must say, therefore, any withdrawal of the support would definitely weaken them, and I don’t think that they would have the potential of taking Kabul.
ROBERT MACNEIL: You asked for visible signs from the United States, of visible evidence of support for Pakistan, and you got a promise — the U.S. said — of a $900 million package from – of aid in various forms.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes.
ROBERT MACNEIL: Is that going to give you, President Musharraf, the support and credibility you need at home to carry on this policy, which is unpopular with some Pakistanis?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, let me say that there are three areas where we are needing support.
One is against our debt. We are talking of debt write-off, or at least a major debt relief, a major debt relief.
The second is to cover our expenses and the losses that we are incurring because of the Afghan operation in the form of fiscal support.
The third is to cover the losses that our exports are going to suffer again – a hit that the economy is going to suffer — to give us additional market access like the European Union in the form of reduction of duties and increase in quotas. This is what we are looking at in its entirety and this is what we are discussing.
ROBERT MACNEIL: You’re still discussing it with U.S. —
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: I think we haven’t fully crystallized the assistance.
ROBERT MACNEIL: All right. Well, President Musharraf, thank you very much for joining us.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Thank you very much.