NOTE: This is a news brief of September 25, 2006 meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations.
NEW YORK -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has dismissed mounting accusations that his government is providing safe haven to Taliban leaders, suggesting intelligence linking them to his country has been faulty.
Musharraf defended his recent decision to strike a deal with tribal elders in Pashtun areas of Waziristan, near the Afghan border, a move that fed criticism he was accommodating militant forces that have sharply increased their attacks in Afghanistan.
He warned against what he called the “Talibanization” of a majority of Pakistan ’s ethnic Pakistan population, which he says has no sympathy for the Muslim extremist fighters. “If we treat them like Taliban, we will push them [to the Taliban’s camp],” he said. “The most dangerous thing today would be if the local ethnic Pashtun majority were to join the Taliban and start a people’s movement, like what happened against the Soviets [in Afghanistan ].”
Musharraf spoke Monday night before a packed gathering of journalists and foreign policy specialists at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is scheduled to discuss the Taliban problem on Wednesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President George W. Bush in Washington.
The Pakistani president dismissed Karzai’s contention that Pakistani intelligence was complicit in providing safe haven to Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar. Karzai said last week he could give Musharraf the telephone digits, address, and GPS number of Omar’s hideout in Quetta.
“For intelligence to be effective, it should be immediate,” Musharraf said. “No target sits there for three months. If you give me those numbers and addresses, we knew they’d be all wrong. Most were absolutely nonsense. There were peaceful people living there.”
“It’s unfortunate Karzai thinks that all this is happening from Pakistan’s side,” he continued. “Mullah Omar has never come to Pakistan after 1995.” He believes the Taliban leader is holed up near Kandahar, a city in southern Afghanistan where he enjoys widespread support among the local Pashtun population.
On the wider war against Muslim extremism, Musharraf repeated his call for a “strategy of enlightened moderation.” First, he stressed, the Muslim world must reject extremism; second, the West must resolve its political disputes with Muslims justly.
Musharraf said the Palestinian conflict remained the principal motivating force behind suicide bombers. “If you’re dealing with Iraq or Lebanon [first], you are putting cart before the horse,” he said. “Palestine is the core issue driving people to terrorism.”
He addressed the rise of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, admitting it was a problem lingering from the period between 1989 and 2001 when relations between the United States and Pakistan were strained.
Musharraf’s talk before the Council, moderated by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, officially marked the release of his new autobiography, In the Line of Fire: A Memoir.
The book has become a source of controversy in recent days. Echoing passages in the memoir, Musharraf told the CBS Television program 60 Minutes on Sunday that Pakistan was threatened immediately after 9/11 by a senior U.S. official to take America’s side in the war on terror or be bombed back to the “Stone Age.” The episode, he wrote, made him so mad he “war-gamed the United States as an adversary." The book also reveals that the Central Intelligence Agency paid Pakistan millions of dollars to turn over as many as 369 al-Qaeda suspects after 9/11. Some Pakistanis have responded to the revelations by accusing their president of revealing state secrets and being a toady to the United States.
His memoir has also raised hackles in India. Musharraf’s claim that India’s uranium- enrichment program stemmed in part from rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan drew a strong rebuke from Indian officials, who called the revelation “baseless.” On India’s prime minister, Musharraf writes: “[T]he initial signs of sincerity and flexibility that I sensed in Manmohan Singh seem to be withering away.”
“I have been chastised by associates for being forthright and overly candid,” Musharraf told the Council. “This is reflected in my writing style. I have not shied away from writing about sensitive issues.”
“Being the leader of Pakistan is one of the most difficult jobs in world,” continued the Pakistani president, who has been the subject of several assassination attempts since assuming power in 1999. “9/11 multiplied these trials many times over.”