W A S H I N G T O N, June 24, 2003 -- Fresh from his meeting with President Bush at Camp David, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sat down with ABCNEWS' Ted Koppel to recount the day's events and to discuss, among other things, possible Pakistani involvement in Iraq. Following is a transcript of the interview.
MR. KOPPEL: Did the president raise with you the question of sending Pakistani troops to Iraq?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: He did. He did talk of the Iraq dispute, and we did discuss Pakistan troops. In principle, we would agree, but we are looking at the modalities.
MR. KOPPEL: How many would you send if you send them and what purpose would they serve?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Two brigades have been asked till now.
MR. KOPPEL: That would be approximately how many men?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Maybe around 6- to 8,000, and up to a division maybe later. Pakistan can, yes, provide up to maybe 8- to 10,000, maybe up to about a division strength.
MR. KOPPEL: When you talk about the modalities, for example, would that mean that the United States would undertake the cost of those troops being in Iraq? Would that be one of the modalities?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes. One of the issues is certainly the financial package, because it wouldn't be fair to expect Pakistan itself to finance such a large force. The other is the political issues, which one is considering.
MR. KOPPEL: Is there any sense of discomfort on your part as the leader of a Muslim nation sending troops over, in effect, to control, for the time being, another Muslim nation?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: I would say it is a cause of concern, all right. That's why I said that we need to examine the modalities. The issue is not of controlling a Muslim state, but the issue is more the perception of the Muslim World, and we need to see whether if it can get United Nations cover or the OIC cover or maybe the GCC cover, that is what we are looking for.
MR. KOPPEL: So, in other words, you wouldn't want to send the troops over as Pakistani troops per se, but as Pakistani troops under a U.N. flag or a Gulf State flag?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes. Additional countries participating. This is one area we are examining, as I said....
MR. KOPPEL: As you look at how things have been going since the major combat in Iraq was over, give me your sense, both as the leader of a great Muslim state and as a military man yourself. What are the, what are the problems, what do you think are the great problems that the United States and its allies face in, in Iraq?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: I feel the problem is of governance, a breakdown, total collapse of governance. Since Iraq was administered through a strong dictatorial and autocratic regime, power is concentrated in one person. So, therefore, when that person leaves, there tends to be a total vacuum and a collapse of governance.
I feel the main problem is to establish some semblance of governance by the Iraqi people because governance can't be done by any non-Iraqi, extensively. You can be in focal points, but the Iraqis themselves have to govern themselves. That is the only way of making it successful....
The other issue is certainly political in that there are three major groups, the Shi'as in the South, and the Kurds in the North — with implications on Iran, Syria, Turkey — and then Sunnis in the center. This is another problem area where governance really will face some challenges.
MR. KOPPEL: When you talk to President Bush, do you get a sense of how long he thinks Paul Bremer, the administrator, is going to have to be the sole power in Iraq and how long it will be before the Iraqis are able to gather themselves in one fashion or another?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, frankly, we didn't go into such details of the governance in Iraq.
MR. KOPPEL: But do you have a feeling as to what would be a safe period? In other words, how long do you think the United States can continue to control Iraq before it becomes a huge problem?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Frankly, I'm a believer that one shouldn't lay time limits, even in Afghanistan. I always say we should be effect-oriented and not time-oriented. What we need to ensure is that the people of Iraq govern themselves. We must ensure the integrity of Iraq, territorial integrity of Iraq. And having brought about a stable government, only then should the forces leave. Otherwise one can end up in chaos there.
MR. KOPPEL: We just heard three senior U.S. senators who were in Baghdad over the weekend say very likely the United States will be there in force for the next three to five years. I know you don't want to put a time limit on it, but does that strike you as a dangerously long period of time?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, I wouldn't, again, as I said, lay time limits, but certainly, at the moment, one is not seeing short-term prospects of achieving whatever I said.
MR. KOPPEL: So you have no trouble with that three to five years. That sounds reasonable to you?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, one has to counter any anti-forces which are opposed to whatever is happening, regrouping and creating trouble. I don't see that happening. If at all, we can, as soon as possible maybe hand over governance to the locals in a manner that the feeling within the populace is that they, themselves, are governing themselves.
MR. KOPPEL: What do your intelligence people tell you, and what does your experience as a military man tell you, as you see these almost daily clashes between Iraqis and the U.S. military? Do you have the sense that that is organized or do you have the sense that these are just isolated incidents?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, I wouldn't be able to accurately comment on that, frankly, but it is a cause of concern, all right, that these incidents are taking place. But then, having said that, one should have realized that, after all, where is the ex-Iraqi Army? Where is the Republican Guard of the troops which are supposed to be so loyal to President Saddam Hussein?
MR. KOPPEL: Do you think they're still out there? Do you think there is still a potential cause of problems?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Maybe there are, yes. The Baath Party was the only party, supposedly, organized. The Republican was supposedly extremely loyal. Of course, they have dissolved into the population, so there is a possibility that they could be undertaking some kind of isolated operation.
I don't believe that they are organized as such. I don't believe at all that they are under some common command and control, and they are functioning in an organized manner. But stray incidents by groups of individuals is a possibility, yes.
MR. KOPPEL: Mr. President, how are we doing in Afghanistan? I've heard, from various sources, that the United States is not living up to all expectations over there. I'd be interested in your view.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, I wouldn't be able to say that I'm very comfortable with whatever exactly is happening. A lot is happening. I think a degree of stability is there, but —
MR. KOPPEL: Throughout the country or just in Kabul?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes. What I was saying was, the basic problem of extending the reach of the government over the whole country still remains to be fulfilled.
MR. KOPPEL: Why is that not happening sooner?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Because there are a number of power centers in Afghanistan. One can divide Afghanistan into, to my judgment, about 11 or 12 power centers. These power centers are dominated by warlords, and they reign supreme there. So, at the moment, if force is not extended to these power centers, it is the warlords or elements which may be opposed to the Bonn peace process, or whatever the coalition is trying to do in Afghanistan. They reign supreme.... Also, may I say, maybe external influence is possible in such a vacuum.
MR. KOPPEL: From where?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: From countries around —
MR. KOPPEL: Your own country?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: No, we are not at all interfering, and that is known by —
MR. KOPPEL: I don't mean your government. I mean, for example, in the Northwest Province.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, those are individuals who have sympathies maybe with the ex-Taliban government, but these are elements which are in the minority in the tribal belt, and we are operating against them.
MR. KOPPEL: This is the first time that the Pakistani military has moved into what you just referred to as "the tribal belt." How successful do you think the military has been? How successful do you think they can be? I mean, there's a reason that the military has never gone in there before. It's a very dangerous area.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes. I think we have been extremely successful. I'm surprised at the success that we've achieved myself.
I think the people of the area have realized that they are missing out on the advantages of living or being integrated into Pakistan, and we are drawing advantages from all of the progress that is possible. It is because of that, that when we approach the people and ask them for access into their area, they willingly allowed us. It was the people of the area, the tribals themselves, who allowed that entry.
And when the army went in, we had decided that we were going to extensively get involved in developmental activity, like road construction, schools, and dispensaries. That is what exactly we are doing.
And the people who have really gone in — the forces anyway — they have gone in and they are received with open arms, and we are helping them develop that area. Besides operating in that area and besides also getting cooperation from them, generally, they have assured us that they will inform us of any outside presence in their area.
Sharia Law: Al Qaeda Along the Afghan Border
MR. KOPPEL: I know the president complimented you today for having arrested over 500 members of the Taliban or al Qaeda, and yet there is a sense that this region is not really under Pakistani government control. For one thing, they just voted recently to institute Muslim law, Sharia. Is that a danger that that will spread throughout Pakistan? And, if so, what would it mean to the kind of government that you have?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes. Well, this question is loaded.... When we are talking of the tribal area — now the possibility of people going across the border from Afghanistan into our area and back to Afghanistan, utilizing the line of control for a safe haven, because of the inaccessible terrain — is there a possibility [of this]? Certainly. Unless we have access into the whole area, our operations against these miscreants, whether they are al Qaeda or Taliban, supporters of ex-Taliban government in al Qaeda, we cannot be assured with 100-percent success.
So, to that extent, yes, there is a degree of lack of control of the government, extending to the whole area. But we are, with every passing day ... bringing this area into control.
The other part of the question, when you are talking of the government — now that is a different issue. The Sharia bill that has been passed by the frontier government: let me tell you, with full guarantee and with full confidence, that this will not affect the whole of Pakistan. It will not spread through the whole of Pakistan.
The Sharia bill which has been spoken of all around the world actually is quite innocuous. It is not violative of whatever already is contained in the Constitution of Pakistan. This bill was verbatim passed in I think '93 or '94 by the frontier government.... So, that is not really such an issue.
But in practical shape, what is happening there, the extremists acts of moving, placing restrictions on dresses, talking of removing billboards, destroying tapes of music, et cetera, now, that has nothing to do with the Sharia bill they've introduced at all. These are other acts, over and above. This is what is causing concern there....
So, I am very sure that there is no question of it spreading anywhere other than here. In fact, the people themselves of Frontier Province are alarmed.
MR. KOPPEL: You took over, Mr. President, in 1999, and there has been some expectation that at some point or another you would give up one hat or the other — your military hat or your civilian hat as president. You have shown no inclination to do either. Why?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, if you remember, I was wearing four hats, initially. When I took over, I was the chief of Army Staff, I was the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, I was the chief executive, and I was the president.
Now, I didn't take or wear these hats by choice. They were really the circumstances that put me in the situation that I was wearing four hats. But then I realized that this is not correct. I started removing the hats. On the first opportunity, I gave up my position as chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and then, in accordance with the Supreme Court orders, I gave up my third position as the chief executive.
And now there are two hats left. One is the Army chief and the other is the president. This, I have also said: I'm very conscious of the fact that these two should not be worn by one person. But in the interest of stability, in the interest of security of Pakistan, since we are going through a state of transition at the moment, it is important that there is harmony between all institutions, especially the military and civil [government] in Pakistan. They're in a state of transition.
So, once I feel that the harmony is there, stability has come, political institutions have started functioning and they have been cemented, I would certainly like to take off this one hat that remains.
MR. KOPPEL: There have been suggestions, none by you, personally, publicly, but suggestions that you might even think of dissolving the Parliament to undo what the most recent elections did. In other words, some of the Muslim parties did, I think, better than expected. Is that a possibility? Are you considering dissolving Parliament?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: No, not at all. We have to adopt democratic methods of handling the situation, political issues there. We are facing a problem, but we have to take action, constitutional action, action in accordance to the Constitution. I'm certainly not thinking of any extra-constitutional measures.
MR. KOPPEL: In other words, dissolving Parliament would be, I just want to be sure I understand you correctly, that would be extra-constitutional.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Dissolving the Parliament? Yes, it would be.
MR. KOPPEL: Is there something else you could do with the Parliament that falls short of dissolving it? The way you emphasize that word, I feel I have to follow up.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: No. As I said, one has to look for the constitutional methods of addressing this issue. One has to see whether the people of the province themselves are in favor of this kind of governance, and if the support of the people of the area is not there, then one has to see what possibilities there are.
MR. KOPPEL: Would you call another election? Or how do you determine whether the people are for or against it? In other words, they voted for the Parliament, they voted for the Muslim members, the members of the Coalition of Muslim Parties. Why do you question whether or not they're behind them?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, one has to see whether they still have the confidence of the House. A possibility: there are constitutional methods of seeing whether they enjoy the same degree of support in the House.
MR. KOPPEL: How would you do that?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: We are talking of the Frontier Province here, I suppose.
MR. KOPPEL: Exactly.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: I suppose, yes. Well, the Parliament itself has to — the provincial assembly itself has to judge that, and to see whether they are enjoying the same support.
Pakistan vs. India: U.S. as Mediator?
MR. KOPPEL: Are you satisfied that the United States is supportive of Pakistan...? I believe it's accurate to say that you have wanted Washington to become more involved in, for example, the Kashmiri dispute. Has President Bush given you any reason to believe that he will?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Yes, he always says that he will remain committed to bringing peace and harmony between India and Pakistan.
MR. KOPPEL: But remaining committed is a different thing from becoming involved. For example, he has just become involved, for the first time, in the road map to peace in the Middle East. Would you like to see him become involved in a similar fashion in a dispute between India and Pakistan?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Pakistan would certainly like that, because we are of the opinion that unless there is external influence, whether you call it mediation or facilitation, unfortunately the other side, the Indian side that talks of bilateral resolution of everything — although they know that there is a deal of facilitation going on behind the scenes — they don't want to talk about it. We believe in talking, whatever is really happening. So Pakistan would encourage it. We would certainly like to have his involvement.
MR. KOPPEL: Did the president give you any reason to believe that that will happen?
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, he certainly believes that it's India and Pakistan who need to get together to resolve our disputes, and that we are at a stand at the moment. But I only hope that, yes, with sincerity, India comes forward, and we both, with sincerity, try to address all issues, including the Coalition of Jammu and Kashmir and move ahead on that.
MR. KOPPEL: In that larger context, the question has been raised whether Pakistan might, at some point, recognize Israel as a state.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: This issue was raised. It came up when I was giving an interview, and I was asked about the progress of the peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. In that context, I did say that if at all these peace talks progress towards an improvement obligation, or towards a resolution of the Palestinian dispute, then in consultation with our other Muslim friends, one would like to examine our approach or our policy towards Israel, which is, at the most, at the moment, totally antagonistic.
MR. KOPPEL: But unilaterally, you would not do that.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Well, at this moment, since it's such a sensitive issue, one needs to take the nation into confidence. Consensus has to be developed in the nation to see, what does the nation really want? But, certainly, our past showed that we have been, as they say, "more Catholic than the Pope" on this issue, which needs to be re-examined in the future.
MR. KOPPEL: President Musharraf, always a great pleasure. Thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to chat.
PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: Thank you very much. Thank you, indeed.