1) Was there a way post 9/11 for Pakistan to handle the Americans and the Taliban that would have avoided the current situation where we seem to be stuck with a deteriorating law and order situation?
I think we dealt with both in the best possible manner under most difficult circumstances. With regards to the US, the big question after 9/11 was whether to join the Coalition or not. The Americans had decided they were going to attack Afghanistan, and because of geographic compulsions, the attack was most likely going to come from the East. The positives of joining the coalition far outweighed the negatives of not joining.
Imagine what would have happened, had we not joined the coalition? The attack would have still taken place using bases provided by our neighbour, jeopardizing our territorial integrity. The flow of Al Qaeda and Taliban into Pakistan and the spreading of obscurantist Talibanisation into our country would have happened at a much greater scale. This was certainly not in our own interest. Therefore joining the Coalition was and is primarily in our own national interest. It happens to be in US interest also. The thought that we are playing the US game is simply not correct.
With the passage of time the situation has become more complex. There is strong Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, developing nexus with Taliban in our tribal agencies, spreading Talibanisation into settled districts of NWFP. These in turn are developing links with extremists in our own society, further complicating the issue. The bottom line is that we have to defeat terrorism and extremism wherever it comes from. The Taliban have done tremendous damage to us and will not hesitate to do more unless we defeat them. The choice is stark. We as a nation have to decide what we want for ourselves. A progressive, enlightened, tolerant Islamic society or a retrogressive, obscurantist society?
2) Lal Masjid- Sifting Truth from Lies
The Lal Masjid operation is a case study of how an appropriately timed, meticulously planned and boldly executed operation launched in the supreme national interest can be distorted by vested interests who want to present it as a disaster. I would like to elaborate/clarify various issues which have been distorted.
“Hundreds of innocent people were killed which included scores of women and children.”
This is an absolute lie. Firstly none of those killed were innocent. They were terrorists (including five foreigners) who took the law in their own hands and killed a number of policemen, kidnapped and physically tortured Chinese citizens (causing embarrassment to the government) and burnt down Ministry of Environment offices, property and vehicles. They had stored arms and explosives in the mosque and were equipped/prepared for suicide bombings. Secondly the numbers killed were NINETY FOUR and not a single woman or child was killed. This can be ascertained by digging their graves and counting.
“The operation was launched overriding efforts to end the occupation peacefully.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The siege of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa was started about six months before the operation. There were about two thousand five hundred girls in Jamia Hafsa and an equal number of men who had taken over Lal Masjid. Despite all the pressure on the government in the media to act and evict the occupants who were challenging the writ of the government and causing immense embarrassment, the decision taken was to negotiate a peaceful settlement to avoid casualties. In the months that followed, representatives from Wafaqul Madaris and the Council of Islamic Ideology were sent to negotiate, Maulana Edhis’ wife was sent to pacify the girls and even Imam Kaaba was gracious enough to contribute towards an amicable end to the confrontation. Besides this, a number of politicians and notables also tried their best to resolve the issue. All this was to no avail. The primary concern before launching the operation was how to avoid casualties. The operation was launched only after all efforts towards a negotiated settlement failed and maximum occupants including all women and children were drawn out. The individuals left were all hardened terrorists including five foreigners who refused to surrender and decided to fight it out.
We as Pakistanis must realise that we cannot be known internationally as a “Soft State” or a “Banana Republic” where there is no writ of the government. The government has to be strong enough to meet any challenge to its authority. Then only can we emerge as a stable, strong, respectable country in the comity of nations. We also have to make sure that religion is not misused to challenge the state and spread extremism in the society.
Lal Masjid operation stands as a tribute to the gallantry of all the soldiers, especially of SSG, rangers and policemen who participated in the operation. May all the Shaheeds rest in peace.
3) What compelled you to promulgate the NRO?
I very much feel responsible for answering this question which is rightly agitating many minds. However because of certain political sensitivities, I will have to pend the answer for the time being with a promise that I will take the nation on board at the appropriate time. The one clarification that I will make is that I committed this mistake on the strong advice of the political leadership at that time who are now blatantly disowning connections with it. My interest was only national with absolutely no personal bias or agenda.
“Through the NRO you brought corrupt politicians to power and made Zardari the President.”
NRO may have allowed Asif Zardari or corrupt politicians to contest elections but it certainly was not the cause of their coming to power. NRO is not responsible for electing the PPP as the majority party or allowing Asif Zardari to win an election. NRO is not responsible for corrupt politicians sitting in Assemblies, or being appointed as Ministers. All this happened through the votes of the people of Pakistan. NRO is not responsible for all Parliamentarians of Provincial and National Assemblies and Senate having overwhelmingly voted for Asif Zardari as President. The nation has to learn to cast their votes for the right person and the right party.
Question: When are you returning to Pakistan? Will you consider forming your own Party or will you form an alliance with existing politicians?
Answer: One thing is for sure, that I will return to Pakistan. The timing however is of the essence. It is mainly dependent on the domestic environment. I have to see whether people vastly want me to return and also whether I can deliver. I have to work through the political and democratic process. Only grassroots support can enable me to carry out a programme and policy based on my vision for the future. So if this question is coming from someone who desires that this happen, it is really up to you to begin engaging. The youth who have been voicing this question and are the future custodians of Pakistan, have to get activated.
As far as forming a new Party or getting into an alliance is concerned, one has to be pragmatic. Existing politicians have their importance and a definite role to play. I have to generate direct public support to try something original. I do believe in a military maxim: “Never reinforce failure.”
Question: Why were such large amounts of bank loans written off? Does this not send the message to the citizenry that crime pays?
Answer: Absolutely correct, it should never be done. But who says I have written off a single loan of any rich or influential individual? Never have I done this.
I have, however, written off loans of the poor, especially those stricken by natural calamities. This was always done on a collective basis. Loans of the poor were written off in drought stricken areas of Baluchistan and Sindh in 2000, then of the earth quake affected in 2005, the flood affected of Baluchistan and Sindh in 2006 and as a part of agriculture reform package for the poor. It was always made sure that these special reliefs were not availed by well off individuals. I have never written off a single loan on an individual basis.
Any individuals who got loans written off have done so on their own, using their influence or other underhand means which must be investigated and action taken. This has never come to my knowledge, and I never took any decision to write off loans to benefit a single individual.
Question: Why did you handover Pakistanis to US for interrogation? In particular, why were Americans given access to an accomplished Pakistani citizen like Dr. Afia Siddiqui?
Answer: These are baseless allegations. Not a single Pakistani was handed over by me to the US or any foreign country. Those taken by US were captured in Afghanistan and not given to US. Our policy was clear:
Pakistanis will be tried in Pakistan.
Foreigners will be offered to their own countries first and in case of refusal (which was invariably the case), will be handed over to the US.
The facts about Dr Afia Siddiqui’s case are still unclear. I only heard her name through the media when the story of her arrest in Afghanistan became public.