|WASHINGTON: Former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf believes his country should be given drone aircraft so it can take out top terror suspects without the help of the West, he told foreign news channel in an exclusive interview.Musharraf became a key U.S. ally after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and joined the United States in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. He became the target of repeated assassination attempts — but he says he acted for the good of his country — not for U.S. benefit.
“It was not for United States alone … it was for Pakistan,” he said during a wide-ranging interview with foreign news’ Amy Kellogg in London.
“We are a progressive, moderate people, so it was very clear that we cannot accept” the Talibanization of his country, he said, calling it an easy decision to turn his military’s sights on the militants.
“They were roaming around our cities and causing terrorist attacks in our cities and all over, and we had to eliminate that.”
Musharraf said that Al Qaeda has been significantly diminished in Pakistan, but the Taliban is thriving. Yet he believes that the unmanned aircraft the U.S. uses to target key militants in Pakistan should be handed over to his country.
They have been very controversial always,” he said. “I personally believe that drones should be given to Pakistan because the sensitivity is American troops or any foreign troops coming into Pakistan.”
The question on so many minds — where is Usama bin Laden? — remains unanswered. Musharraf has doubts whether bin Laden has survived the eight harsh years since 9/11.
“There is even a doubt whether he is alive,” he told media. “Because right in the beginning he was a dialysis patient, he was a kidney patient; therefore I wonder if he is alive. “
The past few years have been a tumultuous time for Pakistan, with the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in late 2007, followed by Musharraf’s stepping down in 2008.
He believes a combination of military might and political solutions will ultimately destroy the Taliban, a disparate band of militants with no front line. He says they are digging their own grave by making Pakistanis turn away from them.
He cited Swat Valley, where the Taliban had a stronghold but were recently defeated by the Pakistani army. The Taliban’s “very cruel behaviour in Swat” — including the harsh imposition of religious law and the slaughter of innocents — appalled the entire nation of 172 million people and bound it together behind the army, he told media.
“Now all the people of Pakistan and also the media is combined, is united, asking the army to defeat them.”
Pakistan is united and remains an American ally, but a growing divide is emerging because Pakistanis generally don’t like the U.S., Musharraf said.
“For 42 years, until ’89, we were the strategic partners of the West,” he told media, noting the “lead role” of Pakistan in the Afghanistan War that lasted from 1979 until 1989.
“We defeated the Soviet Union together,” he said, attributing the end of the Cold War in large part to the victory over the U.S.S.R. in Afghanistan.
“Then what happened after 1989 is the question,” he said. “We were left high and dry” as tribal warfare raged in Afghanistan and 30,000 mujahideen holed up there, forming the central cells of Al Qaeda.
The U.S. also turned away from Pakistan in the intervening years, he said.
“There was a strategic shift in the United States where they shifted towards India, which was always with the East, and never with the West.”
Sanctions were also imposed on both nations for developing nuclear weapons, further aggravating Pakistan, though those sanctions were lifted after 9/11.
Despite the internal tension, Musharraf says he developed a strong friendship with former President George W. Bush, whom he called “a very good man” and “a good friend.”
“I think President Bush was a very sincere person, he was a very straight-talking, upright man,” he said. “I like that in a man. A man who can look into your eyes and talk straight.
“In the military, my experience shows if you look into the eyes of a person … you can see from the glint in their eyes whether they like the man or not. I think everyone (who worked for him) loved him.”
Musharraf says the Muslim world is now waiting with bated breath to see what President Obama can deliver.
“President Obama has said that he will develop better, closer relations with Muslims, and I think he has been welcomed in the Muslim world,” he said.
“The Muslim world was very upbeat about his election. Having said that, he must deliver … (and) I think it is a tough job that he faces to deliver on all that he has been talking.
“Muslims expect the United States to play a very fair role, an impartial role to deliver justice to the Islamic world,” he said.