TOPICS > Nation

Terrorist Target

December 25, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: After narrowly escaping assassination today for the second time in two weeks, President Musharraf gave an interview to Pakistan TV. Here is a brief excerpt.

PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, Pakistan: Our resolve is, if anything, it is strengthened. Our resolve has increased. We have to rid this country of all extremism, fundamentalism, terrorism, and we have to take the country forward on the part of development and progress.

In Chala, with this incident and the last incident, my resolve increases because I have a faith in destiny, a faith in God, and my faith in God and the faith in destiny has got strengthened.

REPORTER: Sir, are you satisfied with your security?

PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Security against suicide bombers really cannot be guaranteed by any force. If you see events around the world, you will notice that there are such events taking place with impunity.

So while we need to tighten our security and take to task whoever has shown a lapse, one shouldn’t make any generalized impulsive, jittery actions of considering everyone to have lapsed on security.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on who might have tried to kill Musharaff, we turn to Husain Haqqani a former advisor to three previous Pakistani prime ministers. He’s now a syndicated columnist and a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And Stephen Cohen dealt with South Asia as a member of the state department’s policy planning office during the Reagan administration. He has written extensively about Pakistan, and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Welcome to you both. Mr. Haqqani, who do you think might have done this? Who has the greatest incentive to kill Musharraf?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, al-Qaida has the greatest incentive. They look at him as a traitor because after 9/11, he sided with the United States, dumped support for the Taliban, which was Pakistan’s previous policy and has subsequently tried to crack down on Islamic militants, although not sufficiently effectively.

So they have the greatest interest in trying to get rid of General Musharraf. Furthermore, they think that he is the only thing that stands between a diversion to the oil policy that, that if they can get rid of him, then his successors would be more appeasing towards the Islamists than General Musharraf is likely to be.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, when you say al-Qaida, are you talking about foreign fighters who are in Pakistan, or are you talking about Pakistani members of al-Qaida?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Both, because the foreign fighters of course have used Pakistan for a long time, going back to the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

They have used Pakistan as a staging ground for operations inside Afghanistan and many of them have family relationships in Pakistan, they have married Pakistani women and have lived there for almost three decades.

Many of them have allies from amongst Pakistan’s Islamic groups who benefited from the funding that the foreign fighters provided and who, at the same time, have been able to convince these people of their world view.

MARGARET WARNER: Stephen Cohen, who would you point to it?

STEPHEN COHEN: I’d agree with Haqqani’s analysis. I’d also add there are two groups which are particularly troublesome: One are the retired members of the military, especially the retired members of the intelligence certify advise who worked with al-Qaida and worked with Taliban in Afghanistan and have professional and personal ties with them.

Another group I think is a group that nobody’s talked about, which I’ve met many times in Pakistan — I was last there in August — that is younger Pakistanis who are angry at states looking for a radical solution to Pakistan’s problems.

And many of them have told me, you know, if they could, they would can kill Musharraf and the whole establishment and I think this is a group that we have to keep our eye on in Pakistan in the future.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, just yesterday, Musharraf reached an agreement with some of the Islamist parties in parliament to give up one his two jobs, his job as commander in chief by the end of next year. In other words, his power is already being clipped. Why would Islamists outside now want to kill him?

STEPHEN COHEN: I think they want to create chaos in Pakistan and in a sense to demonstrate that Pakistan is not viable as long as it’s an American ally and they would like to force any successor government to break with the Americans and go off an independent course.

They also have a great faith in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Pakistan is a failing country in many ways and that’s not a strategy for success, but this is their belief, and it does conform to the al-Qaida principles.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Haqqani, what connection do you see between the folks that you and Mr. Cohen seem to believe are responsible, that is, sort of al-Qaida and outsiders, and the Islamists who are actually in parliament and have, through confronting President Musharraf, actually been able to force him to agree to this deal? Are they working together or at cross-purposes?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: I don’t think they’re working together in a strategic or day-to-day manner. But I think that their world view is similar. Both of them hate the United States, both of them think that Israel and India need to be cut down to size, both of them think that Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities should be used for the entire Muslim world.

And most of them have radical views about how Pakistan should be run. They want Pakistan to become more Islamic than it is.

But at the same time, let me just say that the Islamists in parliament probably provide the environment that is conducive for the militants to operate in because, if these Islamists in parliament actually got only 11 percent of the popular vote but ended up becoming the third largest block in parliament — and General Musharraf, by doing a deal with them instead with the secular opposition, has created legitimacy for them, which then enables them and their supporters outside of parliament to operate with impunity.

There is less of an environment of fear for Islamic militants in Pakistan than there would have been if these Islamists did not have the political power they have in parliament.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Mr. Cohen, now, expand a little on when you talked, also, about particularly retired Pakistani military officers, some who had been in intelligence services. Are these also radical Islamists?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, Margaret, there are Islamists and there are Islamists. Many of the people we’re talking about are not in fact very orthodox mousse limbs. And many orthodox Muslims are not radicals, and I think there’s been important difference, as there was, say, in the communist movement where or leftist movements, you had differences between communists, socialists, Leninists, Stalinists.

I think you get the same gradation of difference among Pakistan’s Islamists. In terms of the retired personnel, many of them were involved in the ISI, the Pakistan’s Internal Security Institution. And they worked closely with the Islamists. And the Pakistan government, for at least 15 or 20 years, used Islamists or used Islamic radicals both in India and Afghanistan as an instrument of state policy.

MARGARET WARNER: So do you think that … I mean there’s been some talk that there’s penetration of even the current security apparatus.

You heard the reporter ask President Musharraf “are you satisfied with your own security?” Not that this route was a particular surprise, but still, I mean do you think that there’s some real vulnerability there right within the circles of the people who are suppose to be protecting him?

STEPHEN COHEN: I think there’s some leakage in his own security apparatus that provided information to these groups as to when and where they could target him.

Although it was known that he traveled these routes. But I think has reason to worry about somebody inside his own establishment who’s providing evidence for this.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Haqqani, we also heard Mr. Musharraf say that this made him more determined to crack down on extremist, extremism.

Is there more he could be doing to fight these extremists in his midst, the very ones that have threatened him or is he doing everything he can? You, as we know, this is an old argument between the U.S. and Pakistan, but what’s your view on this?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: I don’t think that he’s doing all he can for the simple reason that he hasn’t made a strategic shift. The U.S. and Pakistan relationship after 9/11 was more or less a shotgun marriage.

I don’t think he will have time to reflect. He will have to give up a lot more, for example in terms of the military’s privileged position in Pakistani society. He would have to reach out to the secular elements of Pakistani society and make an alliance, forge an alliance with them.

And to do so, he will have to weed out both serving and retired elements of Pakistan security services who have adopted the Islamist world view. And I agree with Steve Cohen, that the Islamist world view is a different thing to being personally biased or personally Islamist. There are many people who share the Islamic world view, which basically means that the entire Islamist world has to become unified, it has to defy U.S. power; it has to somehow reduce Israel and India’s importance in the world.

And that world view essentially has not been given up because General Musharraf himself has not cracked down on Islamist groups — militant Islamist groups whose primary focus is India and Kashmir.

And as long as he doesn’t do that and makes a discontinuation between Islamists of one sort and another, militants of one sort or another, there will be militant groups that will be able to organize themselves and threaten both General Musharraf and Pakistan.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you, a, agree that General Musharraf could be doing more and, b, what’s the U.S. stake in all this?

STEPHEN COHEN: I agree he could do more. I certainly would say he should have done more when he came to power. I met him and talked to him about this, a lot of other Americans and foreigners did. He was dismissive.

He thought he could balance off the Islamists, the Americans, the Afghans, the Indians. He thought he could keep a juggling act in progress. I think he was unaware of how serious these people were, how dangerous they were to him, especially after 9/11.

We made token steps towards reining them in. The United States would like to pressure him to do more. He has to do more or him as a leader in Pakistan could be finished as a country.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s at stake for the U.S. in that?

STEPHEN COHEN: This Pakistan is quickly emerging as our greatest foreign policy problem. Like Iraq shall it’s a state that’s in deep political trouble, like North Korea, it has nuclear weapons, it’s also surrounded by strong and powerful enemies.

It’s had several wars with India it’s produced terrorists in a factory. The potential of leaking nuclear weapons is there. I think this is a country that really deserves our close attention.

MARGARET WARNER: Stephen Cohen and Husain Haqqani, thank you both very much.