SPIEGEL Interview with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf 'Shots Either Hit You or They Do Not'

In an exclusive interview with SPIEGEL, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf discusses conspiracy theories about Benazir Bhutto's death, Western fears that his country's nuclear arsenal will fall into the hands of terrorists and the possibility of resigning.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf describes US President George W. Bush as a "friend," adding, "I will miss him very much."
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Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf describes US President George W. Bush as a "friend," adding, "I will miss him very much."

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, Pakistan is a breeding ground for terrorism, and al-Qaida wants to topple your government and take over the country's nuclear weapons. Is Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world?

Musharraf: This is highly exaggerated. But I do not deny the fact that al-Qaida is operating here. They are carrying out terrorism in the tribal areas, they are the masterminds behind these suicide bombings. While all of this is true, one thing is for sure: The fanatics can never take over Pakistan. This is not possible. They are neither militarily so strong that they can defeat our army, with its 500,000 soldiers, nor politically -- and they do not stand a chance of winning elections. They are much too weak for that.

SPIEGEL: The New York Times has reported that Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are planning covert operations with CIA agents in the tribal belt. Have you been informed about this?

Musharraf: I would never allow American forces to operate on Pakistan's soil. If we need support, we ask for it. It is we who are operating, nobody else. Just before our interview, I met with a delegation of American intelligence officials. We fully share our insights and there is total coordination. They have conveyed that President Bush considers me to be a most sincere friend.

SPIEGEL: His time in office is almost over.

Musharraf: Personally, I will miss him very much. He is a friend, a very upfront man. Personal relations do count in politics, but more than that it is the national interest which matters.

SPIEGEL: The next US president could be a Democrat. The front-runners have already stated they would change their political course with Pakistan. Hillary Clinton wants to impose American controls on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and Barack Obama would like to send American troops to fight extremists in your country …

Musharraf: ... (laughs, shakes his head) ...

SPIEGEL: ... they also might cut back military and economic aid to Pakistan, which has amounted to more than $10 billion since 2001. Have the Democratic front-runners contacted you already?

Musharraf: All these politicians you have mentioned and who talk that way do not have access to intelligence information that could provide them with an accurate view of the situation. When these people get access to that kind of intelligence, I am sure they will not take a different approach than their predecessor. Why would they want to do something to destabilize us, a nuclear power? They will not act against their own national interest.

SPIEGEL: The biggest nightmare of the Americans and the West is that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of religious fanatics. Recently, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, expressed his concerns about the security of Pakistani nuclear weapons. Is the fear that extremists could one day infiltrate the security system around the nuclear installations really that far-fetched?

Musharraf: Mr. ElBaradei's impression is totally misplaced. Before we were officially declared a nuclear power in 1998, our nuclear program was kept top secret. At that time the leading scientist A.Q. Khan had direct contact with the president and could act independendly …

SPIEGEL: ... a privilege which he used to close illegal deals with North Korea, Iran and Libya.

Musharraf: When I became the chief in 1999, I suspected that A. Q. Khan had been doing prohibited things and I fired him. Then I decided to introduce a custodial control, the Army Strategic Force Command, which is organized like a military corps to keep the assets safe. Everything is accounted for. Terrorists could not even take out a bolt from a rifle.

SPIEGEL: You exclude the possibility that individuals inside the army or the ISI intelligence agency who sympathize with the religous fanatics could infiltrate this system?

Musharraf: ISI does not handle any nuclear issue at all. They have nothing to do with it.

SPIEGEL: Benazir Bhutto has been the symbol of hope for a moderate, democratic Pakistan. She claimed to fight for free and fair elections -- and was assassinated. Many Pakistanis doubt that the Feb. 18 elections will be fair and free and they believe that you are planning to manipulate the vote.

Musharraf: Must I prove that elections are not rigged? How can I? I had to postpone the polls for six weeks because of security reasons. Everything will be correct. I have invited international observers.

SPIEGEL: Would you be willing to work with opposition leaders like Nawaz Sharif -- whose government you toppled eight years ago in an unbloody coup and who has urged you to resign -- or with the widower of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, who publicly accuses you of being responsible for the murder of his wife?

Musharraf: National interests should reign supreme. We have to make sure that economic progress continues, we have to carry on fighting terrorism and we need a functioning, democratic government. I am ready to work with whomever wins.

SPIEGEL: Who killed Benazir Bhutto -- and how? New conspiracy theories pop up every day, and most in Pakistan seem to think that just about anything is possible.

Musharraf: We obtain new evidence every day. Today, I am quite reasonably sure about who killed her, because we have tapped the telephones of militant extremists. We heard the voice of Bethulla Mehsud, a terrorist from South Waziristan, who expressed his satisfaction about Bhutto's death.

SPIEGEL: After the terror attack against her on the day of her return from exile in Karachi in October, Ms. Bhutto blamed certain people in the Pakistani security apparatus.

Musharraf: A very strange and improbable claim. She was accusing the same organization that had warned her about suicide bombers, who provided intelligence and offered her security. She was warned, but she decided differently. Three weeks before her death, I did not allow her to hold a rally at the most congested square in Rawalpindi. She was blaming, and trying to give bad names to, people without any proof. But why should I have to prove my innocence?

SPIEGEL: There have been contradicting versions of how she died.

Musharraf: The spokesman of the Interior Ministry has unfortunately pinned himself down to the version that she died from banging her head on the handle of the sunroof lever -- and he called a press conference on his own to make that announcement. The fact is, the man who shot, shot from the left side. Nevertheless, on Benazir's body, there is an injury on the right side of the skull. I saw an enlargement of the x-ray, which showed a crack on this side of the skull. (It's difficult to fit all this together and it) shows that one should never give a final statement until the investigation has been finished.

SPIEGEL: Which is the most probable version in your opinion?

Musharraf: Witnesses in the car said that she slipped before the explosion. She was waving and turned a little right and that angle may have been enough for a bullet to hit.


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