He is the Pakistani ambassador to the United States. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on Sept. 16, 2008.
First, if you could just give me some sense of the commitment that Pakistan has had to going after the Taliban and Al Qaeda since 2001.
First of all, I do not speak for what happened between 2001 and March 2008 for the simple reason that I was somebody who opposed the then-government. ...
What I can say is that the government that was elected in February 2008 by the people of Pakistan is a government that is absolutely committed to fighting terrorism as a problem that Pakistan must face for its own sake. [Former President] Gen. [Pervez] Musharraf may have looked upon the war against terror as an opportunity of getting American cooperation and assistance. President [Asif Ali] Zardari and Prime Minister [Yousaf Raza] Gilani look upon the war against terror as Pakistan's war. And the reason why they see it is because Mr. Zardari's spouse, Mr. Gilani's leader, Pakistan's icon of democracy, Benazir Bhutto, became a victim of terrorism. She had a very clear position that terrorism endangers our own children's future, so this elected government is very committed to eliminating terrorism.
So how will the situation on the ground in the tribal areas change?
Two things will happen. They are already happening. Pakistan's own political leadership will engage, and has engaged, with its own tribal leaders to be able to [assert] who are the reconcilable elements and who are the irreconcilable elements. There are certainly people who have become extremist or violent because they felt they were under attack. They are not necessarily supporters of Osama bin Laden. ... There are certain tribal people who feel that they have been victims of intrusion by the forces that have been unleashed as a result of the war against terror. ...
But then there are the irreconcilable elements: Al Qaeda, people who protect Al Qaeda, people who support Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban.
The elected government has now declared the Pakistani Taliban movement as a terrorist group. Gen. Musharraf had never done that. The problem that I am seeing since I've been ambassador -- and that's only been three months -- is that the U.S. media and many people in the U.S. leadership simply do not recognize that a major change of leadership and a major change of direction has come about in Pakistan. ... They're just being impatient. ...
We've seen some things changing on the ground already. There was a major movement of Pakistani troops against militants in the Bajaur region recently.
And in Bajaur, there was tremendous success achieved. Five hundred sixty militants were killed and accounted for. Pakistan used air power. Pakistan used all elements of military power in that area, and that area is no longer safe for militants.
Similarly, we intend to go for every other region where the militants have created a kind of base for themselves. But the point is that it will be done according to a timing that suits Pakistanis in a methodical way instead of just doing it randomly with someone who has never been to the area, looking at it on a map and say[ing], "Hey, guess what? Let's drop a bomb there next," because that has not worked.
So this was the first major offensive against the militants?
Actually the second major offensive. The first major offensive was in Khyber, just outside of Peshawar. The Taliban had created a base there. And in fact, the main leader of the Taliban there, a man by the name of Haji Namdar, was actually killed in that operation. That area is by and large now clear of the Taliban.
Second is Bajaur. If you look at the map, you will understand that there is a method to what the government of Pakistan is trying to do. The reason why Khyber was chosen was because it's the closest to the settled areas outside of the tribal areas. Bajaur is the northern end of the tribal areas. ...
There was this meeting on the aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln where the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. [Michael] Mullen, and your army chief of staff met and agreed that the Pakistani offensive into Bajaur had failed. This was reported.
This is news for me. ... If Adm. Mullen was to come on your show and say that -- "Yes, this is what I said to Gen. [Ashfaq] Kayani, and this is what Gen. Kayani said to me" -- I would be happy to respond to your question. But based on some of these published reports, many of which I dispute anyway, I am not going to get drawn into what was discussed on the USS Abraham Lincoln.
But as far as you're concerned, that operation did not fail?
It certainly did not fail.
Key militants were killed?
I think key militants were killed. I think we made sure that the militants get the message that the territory of Pakistan is not safe for them. ...
Look, Pakistan has fought the militants. Pakistan has suffered immense losses throughout the last several years. Irrespective of political differences with the government of the time, we do recognize that the soldiers killed are Pakistani soldiers, that the people killed are Pakistani people. The only question is, how do we align American military objectives in the area with Pakistani ones? And we are in the process of working on that. And the meeting on the USS Lincoln was also meant to do that.
The problem is, we are at the tail end of [the Bush] administration, in the middle of an [American] election season, and many people want to score their political points, which are actually policy options being considered. They try to score them through the media, so a lot of reporting gets skewed.
Pakistan is working now very closely with the Afghan government -- much more closely than ever before. President [Hamid] Karzai was present at President Zardari's inauguration on Sept. 6. The only way the Pakistan-Afghan border area is going to be secure is if NATO, the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan work together, not as adversaries but as partners. ...
Would the Pakistani government approve of a U.S. invasion into the tribal areas if they shared the information with you beforehand, and you were satisfied that there was a target there that needed to be taken down?
If there was a target that needed to be taken down in Pakistan, and we were notified of it, Pakistan would take action and take that target down. Pakistan has a very large military, a well-trained military. This military has intervened in politics in the past, and many of our civilians have resented that. But we respect our military. And our military, as long as it performs military functions, would definitely succeed.
Now, if there was a situation where Pakistan, the United States, Afghanistan and other NATO forces had to work together, it would have to be a cooperative decision.
Unilateral strikes which bear no fruit and bring no results except antagonizing people and creating ... anti-Americanism that then undermines America's security and the security of its allies is certainly not the way to win the war against terror.
Are there any circumstances under which you would allow U.S. forces on Pakistani territory?
We feel that as of now, there are no circumstances that we consider relevant that warrant the presence of American troops inside Pakistan. ...
What is going on is impatient decision makers not realizing that to satisfy their desire for action, they are actually taking actions which may be counterproductive.
And you were not notified at all?
No, the government of Pakistan was not notified.
And ... you expressed your opposition?
And what response did you get?
The United States government takes the view that they will do what they consider to be necessary for the safety of American troops in Afghanistan. And we appreciate their concerns. But at the same time, the response on specific operations, the both of us have agreed not to discuss in public. ...
You have said over the years that one of the reasons that the Pakistanis haven't been able to get at the Taliban is because the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] has protected them, that Musharraf's ISI has protected the Taliban.
But Musharraf is gone now, and I think we need to recognize that.
... [B]ut those situations changed. Can't you go after them?
Unfortunately, what I see is a lot of people thinking as if nothing has changed in Pakistan. ... What was happening previously was that Gen. Musharraf needed the war against terror to legitimize his rule, so his policies were directed at legitimizing his rule.
The new government does not need legitimacy through the war against terror. Its legitimacy comes from the vote it received from the people of Pakistan. Therefore, the new government has a different policy and a different outlook toward the war against terror. ...
If the ISI had worked to support the Taliban in the past, that means there are people within the ISI that would know where people like Jalaluddin Haqqani or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are and could give you the information that you need to go after them. Is that going to happen?
I think that the government has taken the view very clearly, which it has communicated to various branches of the U.S. government, that we will very happily share any intelligence that is available to the Pakistani side and would like the American side to share any intelligence that they have on people that need to be gone after. And we intend to go after everyone who is engaged in terrorism in Pakistan, in Afghanistan or around the world.
But do you believe there are people in your military that know where those leaders of the Taliban are?
It does not matter what I believe. I think what matters is what the objective reality is. If there are individuals that can be pointed at, and somebody says, "Brian knows this; Joe knows that; Mohammed knows him," if there are people like that, we are happy to talk to them and find out what we need, because the objective is to find these people, decapitate them, and make sure that they cannot perpetrate terrorist acts.
Let's talk about the difficulty you have in selling to the Pakistani people that you're going to change your policies, you're going to come after Taliban leadership, which is now strengthened over these last several years. Isn't that a difficult sell to the Pakistani people?
Actually, it's not a difficult sell at all. ... The Taliban do not represent the Pakistani way of life. That is why in the elections, people who supported the Taliban did not win; people who opposed them did. The important thing is to marginalize the Taliban. ...
If this can be a methodical effort in which Pakistan's problems, Afghanistan's problems, the local factors can be taken into account while making military and intelligence plans, then I think we can have greater support from the Pakistani people. You won't get support from the Pakistani people if Pakistanis feel hurt and injured. And the national pride of Pakistanis feels hurt and injured by actions that do not help win the war against terror, but at the same time are seen as acts of impatience or, in the worst case, aggression. ...
In fighting a smart war, you want more people to be supportive. The U.S. has still not put in place a hearts-and-minds campaign, either in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, where people can actually be told what is this war about. The elected government of Pakistan is trying to do that. We are trying to reach out to the people and say: "You know what? This is about us. Do you want your female children never to go to school, which is what the Taliban would do?"
But what's the situation here? ... What do the local people want? The Taliban, how do they operate? How do they recruit? Why do they get support?
They get support because Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas have virtually no economy. And when they have no economy, if the U.S. is seen as spending billions of dollars to fight those people, but unwilling to spend a few hundred million dollars to create an economy there, or if people in the U.S. Congress get entangled in technical and legalistic arguments about a simple idea like the reconstruction opportunity zones, which the president of the United States floated a few years ago, but where people in Congress are so sort of inward-looking sometimes -- the labor lobby says, "This labor clause should be provided in it"; the trade lobby says, "This should be done in it." Everybody is thinking only of what is relevant to U.S. politics and very little of what is relevant to the tribal areas and what the people can feel. If the Americans can win hearts and minds by convincing people that they intend to improve the lives of people there, then there is no reason why we won't be able to sell the war against terror to our own people.
The United States has spent $10 billion on aid to Pakistan over the last seven or eight years.
... The fact of the matter is that most of that assistance went essentially, again, not for providing food aid or providing health care to the ordinary person. It went [to] supporting the budget of a large state, and especially security assistance, that people do not feel comes to them.
Let's face it. In the tribal areas, especially in Waziristan, there is only 3 percent female literacy, 18 percent male literacy. ... I must say that Sen. Joe Biden [D-Del.] and Sen. Richard Lugar [R-Ind.] have taken the initiative of what is known as the Biden-Lugar legislation, which is to offer Pakistan $1.5 billion a year in aid for the next five years, nonmilitary assistance. That will win hearts and minds.
You know, it's very interesting. When numbers are bandied about in the U.S., no one wonders, "Where is this money going?" Well, very frankly, Pakistan needed F-16 aircraft, it was said. But in the end, the money that the U.S. provides for F-16 aircraft goes to Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. It doesn't go to Miram Shah, North Waziristan. And that is something that Americans need to understand.
So you say that's going to change? The money is now going to not go to buy so much military hardware? More is going to go toward counterinsurgency, toward winning hearts and minds?
The intention of the elected government is that we will use American assistance as much as possible for benefiting the people so that the people stop looking at the U.S. as an enemy and start looking at the terrorists as the enemy.
But you've still got to go after the terrorists?
Absolutely. And we will.
And every time that that's happened in the past … when the Predators have gone into the tribal areas in coordination with the Pakistani military, that has resulted in massive demonstrations against Musharraf, against "Busharraf," as the people say.
With due respect, I don't think the demonstrations have ever been massive.
Well, I have seen pictures of the ones after the Damadola air strikes.
Well, I would like to see those pictures with you again, and I will point out to you why they are not massive. And here's my explanation: Pakistan is a nation of 160 million people. A demonstration of 2,000 is probably a very big thing in Des Moines, Iowa, but it's not a big thing in Pakistan. ...
Yes, there are a few thousand people who support that. But look at the election results. Millions of people voted for Ms. Bhutto's party. And what is Ms. Bhutto's publicly stated position? "We will fight the terrorists." She paid for that with her own life. The terrorists got her because she took the position against the terrorists.
So the fact of the matter is that as long as you have political leaders in Pakistan who want to give the impression that, "Oh, God, we are in a very difficult situation," as Gen. Musharraf did -- "It's a very difficult situation for me because of this; there are limitations on me" -- you will have more emphasis on that. But the most important thing is, you have a new leadership, and the new leadership will be as bold as it can be as long as the United States and the international community supports it with the means, both economic and military.
I think that one of the most important things in Pakistan right now is to ensure that the military and security services are fully under civilian control. And once they are under civilian control and accountable, then many of the rumors about their role, as well as the actual complaints about their role, will cease.
Look, the U.S. underwent something similar. You are old enough and I certainly am old enough to remember the Church Committee and how [Democratic] Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, if I'm not mistaken, actually held the CIA accountable at a time when the CIA had not been accountable [in the wake of Watergate]. And it had done many things which Americans found repulsive, so once it was aired, there was reform. And now the CIA is not looked upon the same.
You're saying that the new government of Pakistan is going to bring the ISI into a public arena and prosecute them?
I did not actually say that. The Church Committee didn't prosecute anybody either. The Church Committee essentially just laid out what was wrong with certain manners of conduct of the U.S. intelligence community. If there is evidence of Pakistan's intelligence services acting in a manner prejudicial to international security, the government will certainly act upon it.
But most of the 60 years of Pakistan's existence, it's been under military rule. The military is quite powerful.
It certainly is. And the fact of the matter is that this is a new government, and this government has intentions to change that. It's a democratic government. We hope and we look forward to greater support from the world instead of constant reminders to us. We remember our era of dictatorship better than you do.
So therefore, to keep reminding us that, "Oh, God, you were under dictatorship for most of our your history," absolutely we were. We were the ones who got the lashings; we were the ones who went to prison; and we were the ones who lived in exile. We need you to recognize that and be supportive instead of just beating the same drums again and again.
I think that there is great realization, both among civilians and the military in Pakistan, that Pakistan has not benefited from the cycle of civilian military rule of the past. The Pakistani military realizes that while it has a very important and significant role in Pakistan security, it would be a much better organization if it was a professional military rather than a politicized and ideological military. ...
What is needed is time to put that realization into a practical form of change. The problem we are facing in the last few months is that that patience that is needed for change doesn't exist in some of the capitals where we would need it most.
Like in Washington?
Like in Washington.
Because Washington wants to get on with getting across the border and going after the targets that they have long hoped you would go after?
Now here's my point: If these were legitimate targets, I think at least the U.S. government would be able to claim: "You know what? We sent in an expedition, and we got Osama bin Laden." The story would change. ... But when they go in and what they get is 11 people dead who are just, you know, older men or people hanging around, nine women, four children and seven goats, then, with due respect, that doesn't win them anything in the war against terror, and it doesn't bring them any support in Pakistan.
So what I'm asking for is a more intelligent and smart approach, a cooperative approach in which the U.S., NATO, Pakistan and Afghanistan can work together. Look, President Karzai gets it. Why did he come to the inauguration of President Zardari? Because he understands that the way forward is for him to strengthen the hands of the new civilian leadership. If the U.S. administration did exactly the same thing -- strengthen the hands of the civilian leadership; enable the civilian leadership to exercise control over all elements of national power and use those elements to protect Pakistan, but to protect Pakistan against terrorism as well as against external aggression -- then I think that we would get the transformation of Pakistan that we all want. ...
Was the ISI behind the bombing of the Indian Embassy?
The ISI was not behind the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, according to our information. That said, if somebody has evidence against anybody in Pakistan, the Pakistani government intends to look at all evidence. ... Pakistani civilian leaders want an intelligence service that is efficient in providing national security but is not involved in anything other than that.
Was Jalaluddin Haqqani involved in the bombing of the embassy in Kabul?
I have personally not looked at the evidence. I have heard the same stories that you have heard. ... But the fact of the matter is that whether it's Jalaluddin Haqqani or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or any of the other commanders whom the United States and the government of Afghanistan blame for causing terrorist acts inside Afghanistan, Pakistani government would act against any of them simply because we are now convinced that for Pakistan's own security it is important to eliminate all terrorist groups, whether their area of operation is Afghanistan, Pakistan or any other part of the world. ...
We're seeing cross-border raids now. We just saw a raid into South Waziristan. The United States government is talking about how it has every right to go across the border. All the candidates are saying it. What's going on?
First of all, the United States does not have the right to go into a sovereign country that is its ally without permission and approval and consent of that ally. You go and attack an adversary without their permission because you're about to eliminate them. ... When you have an ally, then you work with the ally. ...
The reason that they want to now go in and do these incursions into Pakistan is the hope is that by doing this, they will create some kind of apprehension and fear and then make Pakistan act. My response to that is that when you have a government in Pakistan that wants to act responsibly anyway, give that government a break. ...
If the United States knows that Osama bin Laden is in the tribal areas inside Pakistan, why don't they have a right to go in and take him out?
If the United States knew where Osama bin Laden [was], they would have taken him out. My response to that is that the United States, and for that matter anybody else, has not known where Osama bin Laden is.
But if they did know he was there, do they have a right to go in and take him out?
If the United States knew where Osama bin Laden is and shared that intelligence with the government of Pakistan, Pakistan would take Osama bin Laden out.
And if they don't, does the United States have the right to come in and take him?
Again, that is too many hypotheticals. That's three steps --
That's one hypothetical.
No, the hypothetical is [threefold]: that ... the U.S. knows that Osama bin Laden is there, and then they share the intelligence with Pakistan, and Pakistan doesn't act. That's not going to happen. Pakistan will act. Pakistan will take out Osama bin Laden and any Al Qaeda figure that the Americans share intelligence about. ...
Who killed Benazir Bhutto?
The United Nations has been approached, and I think they are going to find out who did it and why. Many theories have been floated. The fact of the matter remains that Benazir Bhutto was targeted by those who did not like her role as an icon of democracy in a Muslim country, a person who stood up for women's rights and for the rights of the poor and the dispossessed.
We have had an oligarchy that has ruled Pakistan for years. Many extremist groups have been supported by that oligarchy for its own interests. We do not know which of these groups, which of the individuals who are part of these groups actually got her. But very frankly, they are the ones who have always targeted and who wanted her dead.
Do you believe that Baitullah Mehsud was involved in the killing of Benazir Bhutto?
I think that [Pakistani Taliban leader] Baitullah Mehsud is one of the suspects. But I don't think that there is evidence to say that the case is sealed and finally decided. I think we should wait for the United Nations' inquiry into the matter and wait for the investigation.
The Pakistani Taliban have gained power over the last several years, so much so that they now surround and threaten Peshawar, one of your largest cities.
I think that we are a few months behind on that one. I think they did threaten Peshawar or attempted to threaten Peshawar a few months ago, but they have now been evicted from Khyber Agency from where they did that.
The New York Times says the Khyber thing was just for show, that it was for TV cameras and that nothing really was changed.
I am not going to become media critic right now and comment on The New York Times per se, but I don't think that that is the reality. I would be very happy to accompany The New York Times reporters to Khyber and see. ...
My advice to Americans is that Pakistan has been an ally of the United States. We have had many internal problems. We have had leaders who have looked upon the world very differently from Americans. The U.S. looked upon the Communists as the principal threat. Pakistan has looked upon India as the principal threat. Our threat perceptions did not completely converge.
But now we have a leadership in Pakistan whose threat perception that terrorism is the number one enemy of Pakistan converges with that of the United States. This is a time when the Americans need to understand that the new government, the new leadership needs to be given an opportunity and needs to be facilitated in every possible way to assert its control over policy and change Pakistan's direction. And then Pakistan and the United States can be friends and allies as two democracies. ...
In the past, the government has made deals with the Taliban in the tribal areas beginning in 2004, again in 2006, peace treaties in which money changed hands. Would your government be open to those kinds of arrangements? Will those work?
The elected government engaged with various tribal groups, but laid down very clear terms that the purpose of negotiating with you is to ensure that all foreign fighters are excluded, that you and any groups that are fighting the state of Pakistan lay down their weapons, etc., etc. With the exception of one or two arrangements that were worked out and that broke down because the other side did not keep its promises, we did not get the treaties. And therefore, having demonstrated that these people were irreconcilable, we now have convinced the Pakistani public that there is a legitimate reason for us to go after them militarily.
So we will certainly not have half-baked agreements that undermine the war against terror. We will not have agreements that will weaken the state of Pakistan. But if people are willing to decommission their weapons, get out of the business of militancy, then I think there is always a case to be made for bringing people onboard.
We have seen that work in many countries, and it can work in Pakistan's tribal areas. The key is, does that amount to laying down arms? Or does that amount to just giving the people who have arms a new lease of life? We have no intention of doing the latter.