SPIEGEL Interview with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf "Who Is Fighting al-Qaida other than Pakistan?"
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf rules a country on the front lines in the war against terror. For years he has walked the difficult tight-rope of pacifying a Muslim population and maintaining a close alliance with the US. SPIEGEL spoke with him about anti-Americanism, the hunt for Osama bin Laden and whether Iran should be allowed to go nuclear.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Mr. President, a new wave of anti-Americanism has swept over the Muslim world due to the disclosure of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay and at Bagram. Is it becoming more and more difficult to justify the alliance with the US?
Musharraf: Those revelations do create problems. The most important incident was the desecration of the Holy Koran, which no Muslim can tolerate. This alarmed the Muslim world and every government, especially in Pakistan.
SPIEGEL: Is anti-Americanism still on the rise in Pakistan?
Musharraf: It erupts and it has a certain time frame. But we have a strategic direction, that does not get affected.
SPIEGEL: The festering wound for the Muslim world is Iraq.
Musharraf: Initially, when Iraq was attacked, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Saddam was a cruel leader. But the military operations were not focused on the center of gravity, as we say in military terms. The centrer of gravity was one individual, Saddam Hussein. The whole action should have been focused on him, but it was focused on the whole country. That had a very negative impact, because it created the impression that a Muslim country was being invaded. SPIEGEL: But for quite some time the situation has been different, Iraqi Muslims are being killed by Muslim terrorists. Is al-Qaida focusing entirely on Iraq?
Musharraf: An organisation like al-Qaida is well-knit around the world. In fact, all other terrorist groups have joined them. Their interest is to attack the US forces or Western forces. They are now concentrated there.
SPIEGEL: The question the Pentagon and the White House keep on posing is: What do the insurgents want? They are killing US soldiers and civilians, but what are they aiming at?
Musharraf: A majority of Iraqi people, I am sure, want a stable, unified, integrated Iraq, to be run peacefully. But since these insurgents have entered the fray, whoever wants to join the government and whoever shows he's on the side of US, becomes the enemy. So a frontline is being drawn there. I don't think they have any agenda for Iraq. They have an agenda against the United States.
SPIEGEL: Does this shift of the terrorists to Iraq influence your fight in your country?
Musharraf: There is some indication that terrorists from here are shifting to Iraq. Then we also got information according to which they were asking for reinforcement here and for financial support, because we really have pushed them against the wall.
SPIEGEL: Pakistan has often been criticised by the West for only hunting down Osama bin Laden half-heartedly. What is your response to that?
Musharraf: I'm very annoyed, frankly. Who is fighting al-Qaida other than Pakistan? It is only Pakistan which has eliminated over seven hundred terrorists from cities and over three hundred or four hundred from the mountains. During the war in Afghanistan, al-Qaida shifted and they came into Pakistan and we bagged something like over two hundred or two hundred and fifty of them in the initial stage. Then we started an operation bringing in the military to the tribal agencies of South Waziristan.
SPIEGEL: Who are the terrorists up there nowadays and what kind of operations have you launched?
Alleged al-Qaida operative Faraj Al-Liby was captured in March in Pakistan.
SPIEGEL: To beat the Russians.
Musharraf: Yes. You come from Germany, so let me tell you a little story. I have seen a piece of the German Berlin Wall presented to a former Chief of Intelligence here. The caption is very interesting: "To one who struck the first blow". For the Berlin Wall to be dismantled, the first blow was struck in Afghanistan.
All these people shifted their bases here into our cities and into our mountains. We got over seven hundred, which included all the important figures like Khalid Al-Sheikh and Abu Obaida.
SPIEGEL: After a bunch of terrorists were caught in the cities, the other ones pulled back to the mountains again?
Musharraf: Indeed, they shifted into the mountains and we launched our military operations there.
SPIEGEL: When was that?
Musharraf: The first operation was launched in October 2003, but then regular operations started in January 2004. Originally we were not sure how many al-Qaida were there. This is a mountainous region; there are no roads, no tracks. There are seven tribal agencies the military has never been inside. This is an inaccessible area. So we moved into an area which we didn't know at all.
SPIEGEL: Are you suggesting that up to that moment no Pakistani soldier had ever set foot on the soil of that part of your country?
Musharraf: Yes, it was the first time in history. Even the British had left it alone.
SPIEGEL: Did you get support from the tribes?
Musharraf: Yes. We contacted them and we were welcomed in all tribal agencies. We launched operations in about four valleys. These were their bases, their sanctuaries in South Waziristan, the southernmost of the seven agencies. We started operations in Wana valley and then we went on, and we have dislodged them.
SPIEGEL: How did the army manage to do that? Have they got helicopters now?
Musharraf: Yes. In major operations, we have to surround the place, and then we start searching and then gradually establishing intelligence, human and tactical. We wanted to hear whatever they were saying, and see what they were writing on their computers.
SPIEGEL: They don't use mobile phones any longer?
Musharraf: At that time they were still using them. Then we were surveilling them from the air. That is how we started launching these operations in the valley because we got the intelligence that they were there. These valleys were being used by them as command and control bases, because there were tunnels to escape into.
Pakistani paramilitary soldier take position on a post on the outskirts of Wana, the main town of Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region, near the Afghan border in September 2004.
Musharraf: I am reasonably sure after 9/11. In one of the valleys there were certain compounds where we got two truckloads of computers, discs and TV-sets. They were using this place as their propaganda base. We killed many of them. When we are operating in any area, we know we have to break their vertical and horizontal communication links. We broke their homogeneity.
SPIEGEL: Let's suppose, in a little village with a hundred people, there are three foreigners living in the houses of the mayor, the baker and the teacher. Do they bribe them, for example, do they pay them an extremely high rent?
Musharraf: Some people have a religious motivation for harboring them. Others simply do it for the money. They were charging thousands of dollars from them and the terrorists had access to money.
SPIEGEL: How do they get money in the mountain area? You can't probably transfer it from a bank account?
Musharraf: I really do not know, maybe by personal contacts. We knew when anyone communicated. We knew exactly from which house he was operating.
SPIEGEL: As we have come to know, terrorists usually adapt quickly to new circumstances.
Musharraf: They stopped talking on the phone, they started contact by couriers. The last one that we caught is the third-in-charge Abu Faraj Al-Libi. He was in the mountains. They were running the whole show through a courier system and this was the first time we had broken through into it. We caught about fourteen couriers. And the ISI keeps telling me that they have earned about $30 million bounty money in one week.
SPIEGEL: How was Al-Libi living in the village? Was he on his own or in a group?
Musharraf: We do not know exactly. We are trying to establish links. He was in contact with Al-Zawari or Osama bin Laden. He was certainly functioning with a lot of people in various places.
SPIEGEL: Is he being interrogated right now, and are you making him speak?
Musharraf: He gave us leads on those 14 couriers and a lot of information, which we are sharing with others.
SPIEGEL: What is the situation right now in South Waziristan?
Musharraf: There are roads now. There is a political agent to the agencies, who comes directly under the Governor of North West Frontier Province. The Governor is responsible to the President. The army has its headquarters in Peshawar and they have these troops deployed mainly in South Waziristan, but many troops also in other tribal agencies. We are spending millions of rupees and we are also providing aid towards roads, schools, colleges, also for girls, and for medical care. Then we are trying to improve their water management and agriculture.
SPIEGEL: Now the billion dollar question. Where is Osama bin Laden? Is he alive?
- Part 1: "Who Is Fighting al-Qaida other than Pakistan?"
- Part 2: Part Two: The Hunt for bin Laden