(This interview was telecast on NDTV and the transcript is courtesy the Indian Express)
Prannoy Roy: Are you a military man or are you a politician?
President Musharraf: Certainly the answer is very clear. I am a military man. I don’t think I fit into the political role. I am absolutely a military man. Whatever politics I’m involved in, I do it in a military manner, I think.
Sometimes you have to act as a politician. You don’t like that side of you when you have to do that?
Yes. I have to be involved in it, yes, I am involved in politics. I don’t very much like that. But for the nation one has to do many things, it’s a compulsion.
Do you have a kind of deep rooted dislike for politicians or a distrust? Is that one reason why you’ve held on to this power that you can dismiss an elected government if you want to?
No, I don’t think, that’s true. My dislike for politicians is not universal. But generally the way politics has been run in Pakistan — and I would say even in your country — I don’t think there’s very much to follow. We need to have a better democracy and better politics.
You once said, about the 12 year experience between 1987 and 1999, you called it a so-called democracy, a disaster for Pakistan. Is this distrust for politicians also distrust for polls and democracy?
No, not at all. I am in favour of democracy. Very much. But I am a believer that democracy has to be tailored to an environment, to Pakistani environment. The issue is of checks and balances. Our democracy is not mature, and I think many politicians do not behave in a mature manner. Therefore the requirement of checks and balances on everyone.
In our environment there are three power brokers: the President and also the Army Chief. Which is not, may be not, in your country. So, therefore, we have to tailor it according to what environment is in Pakistan.
With checks and balances? But there are no checks and balances on you.
At the moment, at the moment. But once everything comes up, once democracy is established, real democracy, true democracy with checks and balances is established, there will be certainly a check on me. The National Security Council is very much a check on me. I would not be able to execute or implement 58/2b, that is dismissing the Assembly, alone. I am going to submit myself to the National Security Council... That will be a check on the President, which includes me if I am the President.
You said if you are the President...like you look forward to a day you can retire?
Yes, indeed, I do. Nobody’s permanent and I even say that the issue of the President being also the Army Chief needs to be resolved. I do believe that one person should not hold two appointments. But I am holding it till I establish the democracy we are talking of. I don’t want to destabilise Pakistan. So I will continue in uniform. But once these institutions start playing their role, this separation of uniform from presidency must be ensured and I will do it.
Do you have a time deadline for this?
No, I don’t. I don’t have a time deadline because I think once I give a time deadline, I believe in meeting it. I don’t want to go back on my words.
Many people say you are a great communicator, but you live in a state of denial. Like when there is a problem, you deny it exists. In Agra, you said there’s no cross-border terrorism. Now of course it is there...You said that Pakistan was never involved in Kargil, then in 48 hours...And on the Al Qaeda, you said there’s no Al Qaeda in this country...Isn’t it better just to accept reality and then discuss a problem, rather than deny it?
There are grey areas, national interests have to be kept in mind. In every country these things take place. By the way, I never denied Al Qaeda. I have always been saying they may be hiding in our hills, even now they may be there. But to think that Osama and the whole lot of Al Qaeda is here, that is what I was saying is wrong. But on the other issues, there are, I think, much larger perspectives to it.
These are tactical issues?
I think within this Indo-Pakistan relationship, there are many areas which are grey and such denials are done by both countries to guard self-interests.
It is difficult to have a dialogue when you deny a problem exists.
No, I am sorry. I don’t accept this verdict at all about myself. I confront problems, I catch the bull by the horns straight.
No, but you just said for certain national interests you do have to deny...
Every country in international relations guards its national interests and in doing so there are areas where you have to be extremely diplomatic.
Elections were held in Kashmir last year. Believe you me this was a remarkable election. The people of Kashmir were told that if you vote we would shoot you and your family. They came out in hordes voluntarily, international observers were there, this was a genuine election, don’t live in denial on this...this time it was phenomenal to brave terrorists. Would you vote braving terrorists?
Well, I totally disagree with whatever you have said. Our information is it was the law enforcement agencies who were forcing: If you don’t go to vote we will get hold of you.
You don’t agree? Then how can you discuss a problem?
I am 100 per cent sure of one thing, Kashmiris do not want to be part of India.
But they vote, 45 per cent vote...
You as an individual couldn’t be going all over Kashmir. I am sorry to say that.
We do opinion polls, we do surveys...
No, no, no. Opinion polls can all be manipulated. Opinion polls are all managed when you have 700,000 army in an area. Everything is managed.
One of the things about Kashmir, while we are on it, the Americans say that the LoC...
Would anyone want to be with India when they are killing them? Have you seen their graveyards?
Now let’s not get on to emotions. I am just talking about facts. 45 per cent...
I am talking about reality.
Sir, these are old things.
It is old because you have said such a thing, trying to negate facts. The fact of the matter is 70,000 people have been killed. Do you think they can love you? Do you think they can be with India? Are they mad?
Live in denial... I was just getting to the American’s saying the LoC should become a soft border. Do you think it is a possible way forward? That the Kashmiri families can meet each other?
Yes, one should have people to people contact, but that is not the solution.
You agree with that as the first step?
It could be a way forward. One needs to analyse that.
How do you react when people say to you, that the core issue for Pakistan and India is poverty, hunger, education, water in villages... Kashmir won’t get you out of poverty, hunger...
I disagree with you again. Kashmir is not standing in the way of improving your economy. Sir, in these 3 years, the maximum growth we have had is in the economy, in poverty alleviation...In the period of maximum confrontation on Kashmir, we have progressed. So Kashmir is not the issue.
Without the Kashmir issue, you could have progressed much more.
Okay. All that you are saying are national issues. But when you are talking about bilateral relationship, Kashmir is the core of the problem, the core issue.
From an ordinary person like me, we look at India and Pakistani leaders, like yourself, and they still seem to choose the sublime or the ridiculous to discuss — impossible issues like Kashmir or trivial issues like cricket. But the real issues like trade, how we can help each other economically, those are tractable, solvable problems. What happens if you say. Chalo, this is impossible, we won’t discuss it. The trivial too, we won’t. Let’s just get down and fix the machinery here.
There is lack of trust. Because, we don’t trust, we don’t trust the Indian government. We think you only want to do that and sideline the main issue. Now, if there was trust that we will... Has any leader in India ever said that, we want to resolve the Kashmir dispute? Nobody says that. How can we trust you? We don’t trust you. We think your strategy is to put the dispute under the carpet, to sideline it.
I have great, great respect for the Pakistani media. One issue that all of them point to, and I don’t want to ask this from India’s point of view, they all say, Kargil hurt Pakistan’s self-interest So from Pakistan’s point of view — forget India — was Kargil a mistake?
No, I don’t think so at all. I think the main issue of whatever happened at Kargil, were the issue of Kashmir which is in the limelight now, and it has brought to fore, one major issue, that Pakistan and India cannot go to war, must not go to war. Therefore, disputes need to be resolved, this is the international concern.
I didn’t quite get that logic — ‘‘must not go to war’’ — so Kargil war is good?
No not at all. This was not a decision, taken by us, but a decision taken by the Mujahideen, who were there, and we got involved into it.
Again, this is a denial. You were deeply involved there.
We got deeply involved. We did get involved because of the Mujahideen, the action of the Indian troops, because of concentration, because of Indian aircraft intrusion into Pakistan. We obviously did get deeply involved then. But this involvement is there in Siachen. Why are we not talking of that? Every day it’s happening.
A lot of people here believe that Kargil was a mistake.
There are differing views, but I am not one of those. I am a strong believer, that before Kargil, whatever happened there, Kashmir I think was a dead issue.
So you could have another Kargil?
Depends on how we proceed on the peace track, on how things develop. One can’t say.
You are not ruling it out.
Nobody can say yes, we will have another Kargil, but certainly we need to resolve disputes.
No we should resolve them peacefully. It’s only when peace fails, violence occurs in any form.
Two questions I asked you in Agra. The world has changed since then. I want to ask the questions again, and hopefully you don’t remember the answers.
Yes, I don’t. Don’t remember the questions.
One question was that, when there is a woman and her four children standing at a bus-stop and somebody guns them down, anywhere in the world, can you ever call that freedom fighting?
Terrible. Yes. That’s not freedom fighting
Is that terrorism?
That’s a slight change from Agra..
Did I say it’s not terrorism there?
You said that these things happen in a struggle.
I don’t remember.
The other question I asked you was that in 40 out of the 55 years in Pakistan, you did not have democracy. But you are so bothered for these 40-50 years about the will of the people of Kashmir, when you are not bothered about, the will of the people of Pakistan. Isn’t this a contradiction?
We are finding the will of the people of our country. I know how to manage things here. We know what is good and bad here. I know what environment exists in Pakistan, and what are the steps forward to having a democracy which suits us, and that’s what we are doing. But you can’t equate this with the will of the people in Kashmir, where there are 700,000 troops. How can you equate Pakistan, and derive analogies from Kashmir and Pakistan?
You want elections and vote and plebiscite in Kashmir, but you don’t want voting in Pakistan.
With 700,000 people there killing people daily, that is how you want the voting to be done? With 700,000 troops killing them daily, burning their houses, this is how they should go for vote?
Well they certainly did.
Do you regret things?
I do regret, if I take any wrong decisions.
Give us an example.
The political scenario here in Pakistan, I thought it will emerge as something better, and it has not.
So you regret the elections?
No no, I don’t regret. In fact, that was a very big positive. Everyone in Pakistan knows me to be a person who stands by his word. I don’t regret the elections at all. I do regret that unfortunately the result is such, that we have this kind of hung parliament, and also....
But that’s unfair because you are regretting something you didn’t have control of. I am saying, do you regret something that you have done. That’s an outcome of an election — you can regret — it’s at a distance from yourself. Self-regret?
Self-regret, has been that in these three years we haven’t been able to evolve a democracy which is functional, which functions. We have tried to do that but unfortunately...
Will it happen? Will it come to Pakistan? A functional democracy?
Yes it can, yes absolutely it can.
The Prime minister of India, Vajpayee, recently said that this is his last try, third and last try, in Indo-Pak peace talks. You must have heard that. After that he is retiring from this process. What’s your reaction to that?
I would say, the second one was a genuine try. The first one was not a try. I don’t accept that as a try at all: if he made a bus journey to Lahore, if he visited Pakistan. That is not a try towards peace. When he is not prepared to address the core issues, so that was not a try.
You don’t think that was a huge step to come to Lahore? You didn’t actually welcome him at that time.
No no. That’s absolutely wrong. Total misperception. I welcomed him. I was the first man to shake his hands, when he landed in a helicopter.
You were not there at the border.
I didn’t go to Wagah. I thought, in uniform, standing there and all that wouldn’t be...
You have often said, there is a chemistry between you and Vajpayee. Has that helped in this whole process?
I feel that in Agra, yes I got an impression that he is a man of peace, because we drafted the declaration — really — the Agra declaration, was drafted by him and me and the two foreign ministers and, so I believe that he is a man of peace. So I think that way our thoughts are similar. If he really, genuinely is for peace, now also.
You have said that (Mir Zafarullah) Jamali, the Prime Minister, will lead these talks. Very often Vajpayee says, when I next meet Musharraf, General Musharraf — If he wants you to be part of the talks, will you be a part of it?
More than glad. I’d be more than glad.
To lead the talks?
I feel, I really feel, that since that after Agra declaration, there was such a campaign, maligning me and the government, my government, that one thought that maybe.
Let’s not go back to that.
The Prime Minister maybe a better person to meet him, but if he is willing to meet me I am more than happy.
Is Osama Bin Laden still alive, if so where is he?
Yes, this is a million-dollar question which I’ve answered so many times I now feel that he is alive. Previously I used to think maybe he’s dead. Now I feel that he is alive. But the question of where he is... I think most likely he is in Afghanistan.
Was Pakistan’s getting involved with Taliban a mistake for Pakistan?
No, I think it was a dictate of the environment a dictate of the situation. In a country where 90 percent of Afghanistan was occupied by the Taliban, and the Taliban being the only Pakhtoons, at that time, with having obviously ethnic links with Pakistan.
But it’s not the kind of ideology you agree with. Many people see you as a major leader of the Islamic World who is not a fundamentalist. But now you have one area of Pakistan, the North-West Frontier Province, which has just voted in the Sharia law. Does this worry you?
Well, it is a little worrisome, I am for a moderate, progressive and a dynamic Islamic state. I very much differentiate between a theocratic state and an Islamic state. We do not want a theocratic state.
So if in the end the NWFP, they don’t allow women to be educated, then they don’t allow them to
work, will you intervene in some way?
Yes, indeed, I will. There is no doubt about it. But they are not doing that, and this is a misperception.
But, isn’t this NWFP a spillover of these policies genuinely, seriously?
To an extent. No it’s not a spillover only of Afghanistan, lot is happening in the Islamic world. It’s a spillover of also Iraq and Palestine.
You have 10,000 US troops here. Is that a worry for you? Not from the mere existence...
Who gave you these figures?
You don’t have 10,000 troops?
How many do you have?
I don’t know, But certainly not even a thousand.
So say, you’ve got a thousand in bases here...
Much lesser. There is an American troop presence fighting here. They are here after 9/11. The agreement that we reached on fighting terrorism and being part of the coalition. The use of all the Pakistan air-space and the use one of our bases, for logistical support and rescue missions were allowed and is being allowed.
But do you think it reinforces the fundamentalists and the extremists you are so distant from?
No this has not been an issue.
I remember seeing huge demonstrations on it, but anyway.
Yes, initially yes. I do agree American presence here is not liked. But sooner or later, once the Afghan issue is settled I think they should leave. .
Is Pakistan part of the global war against terror?
Will you for example send Pakistani troops to Iraq?
We’ve been asked to, but we need to see certain parameters.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine