May 23, 2007
Pg. 13 Ambassador Says That His Country Is A Loyal U.S. Ally In War On Terror, But That 'force Alone' Won't Work. No, He Doesn't Know Where Osama Bin Laden Is. And Yes, He's Concerned That The Latest Turmoil In Pakistan Is A Threat To Democracy.
By USA Today Editorial Board In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan became a crucial ally in the U.S. global war on terror, providing essential support in battling the Taliban in Afghanistan and targeting Islamic extremists in the region. In return, the United States has provided $10 billion in aid as well as expanded relations afforded to the closest allies. Nonetheless, Osama bin Laden — believed to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border — is still at large while the Taliban has seen a resurgence. Pakistan has thousands of madrassas — Islamic schools that often teach extremist, anti-Western messages. And opinion polls show that many Pakistanis sympathize with terrorists such as bin Laden. The extremist strain is all the more troubling because Pakistan owns nuclear weapons, has a vulnerable government and a history of letting its nuclear secrets fall into the wrong hands. The instability has been on display in the past few weeks, as suicide attacks and violent protests followed the controversial firing of the country's top judge. Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, discussed these and other issues with USA TODAY's editorial board. His comments were edited for length and clarity. Question: The most contentious issue between our two countries is the U.S. belief that al-Qaeda camps exist in Pakistan and are not being removed. Why can you not dispose of this threat?
Answer: I dispute this. There are no existing camps that we know of. It is incorrect (to suggest) that there are camps and nothing is being done. If there is a camp and we know of it definitely, we go and eliminate it. They should look at Afghanistan, a country 20 times larger than our border areas. Thousands of miles in Afghanistan are open to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Q: No definitive proof exists that Taliban leader Mullah Omar or Osama bin Laden are in Pakistan, but can you be so certain they are not?
A: I never said they are not in Pakistan. I said nobody knows. I have no definite proof. This is the sad part. Q: What should either Pakistan or the United States do to find these people?
A: Better intelligence. Neither country has been able to bring out al-Qaeda's top leadership. It's easier said than done because of our tribal areas (which are largely autonomous). Nevertheless, we need to improve our human intelligence there. We have a fair amount of electronic intelligence. Then we need improvement in coordination and quick-reaction forces. Q: There also is a perception that the peace agreement President (Pervez) Musharraf signed in September with Islamist tribal leaders in the north has given bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders a safe haven. Can you address that?
A: You are right to have that perception, and where did it start? Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai was the first to say that this was counterproductive and this will give a safe haven to the bad guys. We want to win over the people, win their hearts and minds, then work with them. We are trying to improve the quality of life of the tribal areas. We are trying to develop the area, and your government is supporting us. So, the bottom line is that force alone is not going to resolve this issue. It's going to be multiple strengths and that's what we're doing, and it's working. Q: Is democracy dead in Pakistan? President Musharraf has promised to relinquish his role as general. Will he?
A: He will take off his uniform at an appropriate stage. Democracy is not dead in Pakistan. Some democratic institutions have been improved. Musharraf has developed a system of basic democracies, a devolution plan. People have been empowered at that level to make their own decisions, including financial. Despite all the criticism, the press is more free than ever. There is a robust opposition in the Parliament. Our democracy has never been better. Q: Pakistan and India are very similar countries, but India is powering ahead economically. Do you see a similar future possible for Pakistan?
A: Is India modern in a way? Yes. Even in Pakistan, they make these comparisons. They say India is a role model in many ways. In democracy, it's a role model. In economic development, it is a role model. As a secular state, it has fallen off and is not a role model. But we hope that some day Pakistan will beat them in both of these things. Q: What is holding Pakistan back?
A: (At the country's founding in 1947), our political leadership was not as well developed (as India's). They had the good fortune of having a narrow family leadership guiding that country for 30 years. We had nothing. If we had had that kind of leadership, we would have been the same because we are very similar people. These two fatal flaws brought us down. Q: How can you get back on track?
A: You lay down priorities — and you move. We are doing that. Our economy for example. For the last four years after many, many years, we are moving at about 6.5% to about 7% growth in GDP. This is a miracle from where we were during the last days of the last government. We were on the edge of default. Democracy is trying to develop. Q: When talking about improving your economy, how much of that is a result of U.S. funding?
A: About 25%. But the real growth, Pakistan has done. If you pour water into a bucket which has three holes in the bottom, it will never fill. Today, the bucket is filling because some very important fundamental reforms that Pakistan has enacted. Q: We read stories from time to time about young men who travel to Pakistan to attend a madrassa and then leave more extremist and more inclined to commit terrorist acts. Is your government trying to restrict madrassas?
A: We estimate that there are about 14,000 madrassas in Pakistan. When Musharraf took over, he started reining in the madrassas. What the government is telling them is that if you bring in modern education and you bring in education which will give your boys some jobs, we will help you. Q: Where did the madrassas system go wrong?
A: After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (in 1979), your country and our country joined hands and encouraged what was called the mujahedin (religious warriors). The mujahedin would come out of madrassas in Afghanistan. When the fight against the Soviet Union began, the madrassas in Pakistan also went into overdrive to produce this gun fodder. So the militancy in the madrassas came after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That is when militancy (including the Taliban and al-Qaeda) got into the madrassas. Now the government has controlled their funds. When we found out there was militancy, they were closed. We are now opening quality schools in the rural areas and in the urban areas. Many times children go to madrassas because they have no better option. Q: Do you have outside nuclear inspectors or a system to show that your weapons are safe?
A: (Abdul Qadeer Khan, once the head of Pakistan's nuclear program, was found to have secretly sold nuclear equipment to Iran, Libya and perhaps others.) We're trying to live that down. It is like guarding a house. We have gone literally to overdrive to correct it. Q: What is Khan's status?
A: He is under house arrest. Q: Literally?
A: Oh, absolutely, totally, completely. He can't run around. There's no way. We do keep getting some information from here and there, and we've shared almost every bit of information (with the United States). Q: Has there been a U.S. interrogation of Khan?
A: No direct, no direct (interrogation) because (Khan) is unfortunately a national hero. Otherwise, we would have strung him from the tallest tree. Q: What has been the effect of nuclear weapons on India and Pakistan relations broadly?
A: Very fundamental. There is almost zero possibility for war between Pakistan and India. No. 2, the major overtures toward peace between Pakistan and India are because of nuclear weapons. Leadership in both countries has realized that if we go to war that is going to destroy us. Q: Are you concerned that the recent violence in Karachi could mark the beginning of a period of political instability that could undercut progress in education and economics?
A: It's worrisome. I'm concerned this could unhinge a lot of the progress that we've made in our economy. Even that it could undermine democracy. I'm worried, and I hope the government can manage this and get over this and move into normal life. It's worrisome, as a Pakistani.