I’m at CNN’s World Report International Conference (or something like that) in Atlanta. It’s lunch time, and my panel, on blogging, will begin at 2:15. Just before lunch Wolf Blitzer did an interview with President Musharraf of Pakistan; Musharraf also took questions from the audience.
I’ve always been impressed by Musharraf, but have never seen him for more than a few minutes at a time. He’s very, very good. He has the skills of an American politician of a generation or two ago; it’s fun to watch someone as smart as Musharraf who hasn’t been subjected to the Oprah-ization of American politics. A few highlights:
Musharraf began with a speech or statement in which he outlined, in a very positive way, Pakistan’s progress against terrorism, especially al Qaeda. He said that Pakistan’s Secret Service has penetrated al Qaeda’s courier network, leading to valuable human intelligence. This is apparently the first time any government has succeeded in penetrating the organization.
Musharraf said that al-Libbi, said to be al Qaeda’s number three leader, has cooperated with interrogators, and information has been extracted that has led to the apprehension of a number of terrorists. Al-Libbi did not, however, know anything about bin Laden’s whereabouts. Musharraf said that he believes al-Libbi has been “deported to the United States” within the past three days. Someone asked a question about where terrorists captured in Pakistan would ultimately be tried. Musharraf said he hadn’t yet “stretched his mind” far enough to think about that question. Trials for terrorists are clearly not a priority for him.
The short-term strategy against terrorism, in Musharraf’s view, is military; the long-term strategy is to address extremism in the Arab world by resolving political conflicts rather than merely trying to manage them. Toward this end, he says he is seeking a definitive resolution of the conflict with India over Kashmir, which he says he is optimistic will occur while he is still in power. He also says that Pakistan is addressing the issue of the “misuse of Mosques” and is “mainstreaming the madrassas.” I can only hope that’s true.
Asked whether Pakistan has been sufficiently “rewarded” for cooperating with the United States in the GWOT, Musharraf bristled a bit. He said that he pursues anti-terror policies because they are in Pakistan’s interest, and it “trivializes” an important issue to speak in terms of “rewards.” He also noted that Pakistan had received (even though it did not solicit) significant debt relief and financial assistance.
Musharraf acknowledged that there is considerable anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, which dates from the 1990s and which he attributes mostly to the U.S. having left Pakistan “high and dry” after the war in Afghanistan, and having “denied” Pakistan the F-16. Nevertheless, he said he is confident that Pakistanis support his anti-terror policies; that they also benefit the United States is irrelevant.
Musharraf’s view of the emerging conflict between Japan and China (a subject raised by a Japanese journalist) is benign. He says that the two Asian powers are pursuing ever-deeper commercial relationships, and that their economic ties will “overshadow” any political conflicts.
The interview was consistent with my perception that Musharraf is a hard man, but not a bad one. A good ally, in other words, in a place where we desperately need one.
UPDATE: Musharraf’s statement that al-Libbi has been turned over to the U.S. is now being reported.
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