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Pressuring Pakistan

September 17, 2001 at 12:00 AM EST
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SPENCER MICHELS: Under pressure from the United States, a delegation from Pakistan traveled to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar today.

Their mission was to persuade Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders to turn over Osama bin Laden. He is believed to be the mastermind behind the attacks on the U.S., and America has also demanded directly that Afghanistan hand over the suspected terrorist leader.

Taliban-run radio Shariat quoted officials who said the meeting with the Pakistanis was “positive.” The delegation then flew on to Kabul, the capital, where they were expected to meet the Grand Council of Islamic Clerics on Tuesday. The clerics could decide bin Laden’s fate.

At a news conference today, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said all roads in the investigation lead to bin Laden, who– he believes– remains in Afghanistan.

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: The Taliban, of course, is responding in the way that it always has: That Osama bin Laden and his associates are guests in their country. Well, it’s time for the guests to leave. I’ll wait and see what they end up doing and what that court decides. Once it has convened in whatever fashion it convenes itself and what action it takes — I don’t want to pre-judge what we might do in response to what it might do.

SPENCER MICHELS: Meanwhile, a Pakistani military officer said today that Afghanistan had massed twenty to twenty-five thousand fighters near the border of the two countries, in the legendary Khyber Pass. The army captain said the Afghans were armed with SCUD missiles– capable of striking Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. He said his troops were on high alert.

PAKISTANI CAPTAIN: Definitely, you can say that we still not a declared war, but we have to wait for the escalations and what happens next.

SPENCER MICHELS: After last week’s terrorist attacks, the U.S. presented Pakistan with a list of a dozen demands. The most prominent is that it must force the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden. Today, Pakistan closed its 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan, blocking frightened Afghan refugees fleeing their country. Many expected a U.S. military assault. Pakistan has also confined a million Afghan refugees already in the country to camps in the North. That would keep Taliban sympathizers from mixing with Pakistan’s Muslim population. The president of Pakistan– General Pervez Musharraf– continues to walk a tightrope. Yesterday, he explained to religious leaders his decision to assist the United States in an anti-terrorism campaign.

PAKISTANI PROTESTER: If they are coming here, we will make this place the graveyard of American army.

SPENCER MICHELS: But at the street level, bearded Muslims in white robes, a sign of their devotion, demonstrated to show they are not with Musharraf in his siding with the U.S. Today, Muslim leaders called for a strike on Friday to protest U.S. plans. Over the weekend, a Taliban representative in Pakistan warned of retaliation against all who in any way help in military action against Afghanistan.

MOHAMMED SOHAL SHAHEEN, Taliban Mission to Pakistan: We do not expect Pakistan to take such action, to allow such an unjustified action against the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan.

SPENCER MICHELS: Musharraf came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999. The army general declared himself president in June of this year after ruling the country for nearly two years. Pakistan, a poor nation of 140 million people with a per capita income of $500 a year, has been an American ally for decades. But Pakistan has been under American economic sanctions since it tested a nuclear weapon in 1998.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on Pakistan’s crucial role in the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism, we turn to: Robert Oakley, ambassador to Pakistan during the first Bush administration and coordinator for counter terrorism during the Reagan administration. And Mansoor Ijaz, an investment banker and frequent op/ed columnist for international publications. His parents emigrated to the United States in 1960 from Pakistan, shortly before he was born. Welcome to you both.

Mr. Ijaz, beginning with you. Give us your understanding– I know you’ve been talking to people in Pakistan– about what transpired at this meeting today. What did the Pakistanis tell the Taliban leaders and what was their response?

MANSOOR IJAZ, Analyst: Well, I don’t think I can tell you precisely what that was, but I will give you the general sense that I’ve gotten from people that are close to both sides, the Taliban as well as the intelligence services in Pakistan. It is pretty clear that the intelligence chief of Pakistan told the Taliban leaders that this time, whatever has happened and whoever may be directly responsible, essentially you guys have now allowed this to go too far. And, in a sense, you have gone so far that it now damages us as a country as well. That is something that the ISI chief would not have said even three months ago, given the circumstances that exist between Pakistan and Afghanistan in terms of their friendly relations — as we all Pakistan is one of three nations that recognized the Taliban’s right to govern Afghanistan. The Taliban’s response to that was that, well, the initial response was, well, we’ve told you before and we’re telling you again that Mr. bin Laden is our guest and we have no intention of releasing him to the United States. But I think as it became clearer later in the day– and it’s important for everybody to understand that the intelligence chief of Pakistan is still in Kandahar– I think as it got later in the day, maybe some better sense started to prevail, and that is when the idea of turning this decision over to the Ulima, which is sort of the religious council of elders in Afghanistan, came up.

Now, the question is what are the conditions under which the Taliban would be willing to turn bin Laden over. And, as I understand it, there are three primary conditions that they have set forth: The first is that the Ulima, the religious elders, would have to agree to this within Afghanistan. The second is– and this is a very important one, perhaps the most important one– that the organization of Islamic Conference, which is a collective body of many of the countries that we have banned– Sudan, Syria, Iraq, various religious groups and so forth– they would have to also sign off on this. Now, there our allies — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan itself, Indonesia, other countries that are Muslim countries — could play an extraordinarily valuable role for us in terms of getting them to sign off on this. And the third condition was that once bin Laden… if bin Laden were to be turned over and put on trial in a third country, that at least one of the jurists would be a an Islamic Sharia expert or an Islamic judge. So I think with these developments this evening, there is still a glimmer of hope that the Taliban may be prevailed upon to look at this in the more appropriate way.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Oakley, the Taliban has given at least part of this response before, as I understand it, saying, well, we’re going to let these Islamic clerics decide it. Does it sound… Do you think there’s a glimmer of hope that Pakistan actually might be able… might be successful in this mission that it went on today?

ROBERT OAKLEY: The only the way that you can have success is through the Pakistanis. I have a great deal of confidence in General Musharraf and Mahmood, who was here for almost a week. He can convey….

MARGARET WARNER: He’s the intelligence chief.

ROBERT OAKLEY: He’s the intelligence chief that Mansoor was talking about. He was in the country at the time of these events. He spent a lot of time talking to senior U.S. officials.

MARGARET WARNER: He was here at the time of the bombings last week?

ROBERT OAKLEY: Yes. And they trust him. He’s been their chief supporter — interlocutor. And so if there’s anybody who can bring home to them the magnitude of what’s happened and the response, the very power of the response is General Mahmood with the backing of General Musharraf. General Musharraf and General Mahmood and the other members of the ruling Junta have decided to put their fate on the line, the fate of Pakistan on the line. They’ve seen the effects of the Taliban and bin Laden and other radical Islamic groups have been eating away at Pakistan like a cancer. Successive governments have put off dealing with this. Now there’s no choice. Therefore Pakistan is determined to go ahead.

I have a great deal of confidence that they understand the Taliban. They understand the Afghans. Now, it may be that some of the Taliban including Mahmood will decide to stick with Osama bin Laden, in which case I suspect that the Taliban will begin to splinter. It’s not that cohesive an organization. So I think that one way or another – we’re going to get — if we not a negotiated agreement – a sharp diminution if not an end to the Taliban protection of bin Laden, at which point they’ll have to find a way to get him.

MARGARET WARNER: And how important… Just give us briefly a little history here — is the Pakistan intelligence connection with the Taliban in terms of the Taliban survival or ability to rule there?

ROBERT OAKLEY: Well, the Pakistanis started off helping the Taliban thinking that they would be of great service to Pakistan in various ways. It turned out, I think, that the Pakistanis are riding on the back of a tiger of the Taliban and don’t know quite how to get off because the Taliban by protecting people like bin Laden and by some of their other activities have encouraged a sharp negative Islamic fanatical reaction within Pakistan itself. And so this is what they’re confronting. On the other hand, we, the United States, are urging Pakistan to get in there and fight by using its superior knowledge and relationships with them, but they’ve got one hand tied behind their back, because of the economic and political sanctions and military sanctions which we’ve applied upon that country for 11 years now.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ijaz, do you agree that the Pakistan government has had a change of heart or I guess I should say a change of strategy in terms of how they feel about the Taliban?

MANSOOR IJAZ: Well, clearly the magnitude of the event last week would… Let’s put it this way. If it was 2000 degrees inside the World Trade Center when the jet went into it, you can be rest assured there’s 2000 degrees of worth of heat sitting under General Musharraf right now about which way he’s going to take Pakistan for the future. And the fact of the matter is that there is no other choice that he had as a man who was trained in the West, who understands what the paradigms of life are here and what it means to have a strong economy. This is, in fact, what he has been working so hard for, for so long.

MARGARET WARNER: But now, let me just interrupt you. It’s true, is it not, that Pakistan itself could be considered a country that harbors terrorists?

MANSOOR IJAZ: Yes that’s true. It’s certainly a problem that they’ve got. But I think that we have to be very careful about defining what is meant by terrorist. The terrorists that struck the World Trade Center last week are a very different breed of people than what we claim are terrorists in Pakistan who are, by many there, considered freedom fighters fighting the cause in Kashmir against India. That’s a different ballgame. So I think we shouldn’t confuse those two issues. But what Pakistan’s decision really has to be is that their rationale and I’d like to go back to what Bob said before, their rationale all along has been with the ISI – it was that we cannot afford to wage two wars on two borders at the same time — that is Kashmir and India on one side and Afghanistan on the other.

Because Pakistan was sanctioned military in 1990, because they’ve had economic sanctions applied to them periodically since then, their economy and their military structure has weakened so much that the real problem you face today in Pakistan– and that’s the decision that Musharraf had to make– is would it be possible for his army to withstand civil riots on the streets if the United States goes in and uses his country as a base? And you have to remember that most of the people who are in the lower echelons of the army, the enlisted personnel that carry the guns and police the streets in Pakistan, these are people who went to the same Madrasa schools, these radical religious schools, as the very people who are out there in the streets right now. So this is where you have the potential for civil strife, and that is why the reaction that the United States has in this situation has to be very carefully craft and very thoughtfully planned out.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Ambassador Oakley, talk to us about these troop movements we’ve also seen. In other words, let’s say this probably becomes an issue if the Taliban doesn’t agree. That is, the Taliban has threatened — as we saw in the tape — that they would wage war on any country that assisted an attack.

There have been troop movements with the Afghans putting troops on their border, the Pakistanis moving their troops away from the border with India. It’s unclear where they’ve gone. There are mixed reports. Do you think there’s chance of conflict or hostilities between these two countries?

ROBERT OAKLEY: Not out and out. I think that we have to fear is what Mansoor has been talking about, that they can provoke violent uprisings within Pakistan in an attempt on overthrow the Musharraf regime. That’s why this has to be done in the name of Islam. That’s why Secretary of State Powell has been working so hard to rally a solid Islamic core to this international coalition for the campaign to save civilization and to fight terrorists. And the Pakistanis said they would welcome Islamic members of this coalition upon their territory. It can’t be the United States in the lead. It has to be the Islamic countries in the lead with the United States providing the muscle and the support from behind. The Pakistanis have said they would work with the Security Council resolution, not with the United States. We’re not that popular in Pakistan. In part because for the last 11 years we put Pakistan…we’ve cut off their weapons and the economic support including help for education, girls, population planning. We’ve cut off spare parts. We’ve cut off training of Pakistani officers. Therefore they go to religious schools in Pakistan; they don’t go to military schools in the United States. So there’s a lot that needs to be done from our point of view to help shore up Musharraf in this struggle, which is going to take a long time. It’s not going to be over in a short period of time.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. Ijaz, a brief final comment from you, in the risks department about if there were to be some kind of an uprising, if you did have this government destabilized and more radical elements took control of the Pakistani government and here’s a government with nuclear weapons, how big a risk do you think that is?

MANSOOR IJAZ: Well, I mean, I think that’s probably the worst nightmare that we all think about. It’s very clear that Pakistan has an advanced nuclear capability. I think the responsible thing to say is that Pakistan still is enough of a state to understand its responsibility in safeguarding those nuclear weapons wherever they may be.

MARGARET WARNER: But I’m talking about if it weren’t this government.

MANSOOR IJAZ: I understand that. Let’s assume that now you had bin Laden running Pakistan; let’s take the worst-case scenario. In that case, I think there would be no choice for us — and the global community — for that matter — to take very drastic measures to root out whoever was running the place. It does not necessarily mean that we have to go in and destroy the nuclear facilities. I want to be very clear about that. But it would certainly mean that we would have to take very radical measures to ensure that the people who were running this thing were not allowed to stay in there for very long.

And that is precisely why when we go into this engagement, we have to be very precise about who we’re targeting and we have to use the most advanced capabilities that the United States military has to be able to go in and ferret out these guys as President Bush said smoke them out of their caves, literally smoke them out of their caves. We need that evidence that is sitting in the caves to know precisely what this network is around the world and how to unravel it and stop it once and for all.

MARGARET WARNER: Mansoor Ijaz, Ambassador Oakley, thank you both very much.