WASHINGTON -- Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday pushed back against concerns expressed by the United States and other world powers about his nation's ties to terrorist organizations and the security of its nuclear arsenal (see GSN, Aug. 17).
Today, U.S.-Pakistan relations are "terrible" and "at their lowest ebb," due in part to tactical-level problems between Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, and the nation's army, as they deal with developing security situations, he said during a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"Anyone who tries to convert this tactical mishandling and difference of opinion to reflect or to cast aspersion that ISI and the army, at the top level, by design, are facilitating, abetting, encouraging, arming maybe" extremist groups such as the Haqqani network to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan "is diverse from reality," Musharraf told the audience.
He added he was "very sad" to hear comments made in September by then-U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen that the Haqqani network "acts as a veritable arm" of Islamabad's intelligence service. The militant group is based in the tribal regions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; it has attacked coalition forces in Afghanistan and was linked to the September assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Mullen's remarks are "totally against the interests of the United States and Pakistan and the region and also the world because it violates the unity of thought and action" against such terrorist organizations, according to Musharraf, who has lived in exile since stepping down from his post in 2008.
The former leader reaffirmed previous statements that he would return to Pakistan next March to run for president in the 2013 election.
Relations between Washington and Islamabad have reached a nadir in recent months. Obama administration officials have stepped up their demands that Pakistan do more against extremists groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban. Meanwhile, many in the South Asian state see the United States as a fair-weather friend that infringes on their national sovereignty by carrying our repeated drone attacks against militants operating from Pakistan's sprawling border region with Afghanistan.
The feeling of mutual distrust only grew deeper in May following the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, who had hidden for years in a Pakistani town that is home to a major military training academy.
Musharraf said one way to reinvigorate the relationship between the two allies would be for Islamabad to fully investigate how bin Laden came to be in country and to punish anyone in the government or military who might have assisted him. However, the situation appears to be the result of "terrible negligence" and not complicity, he added.
The former president later said he was not convinced that the al-Qaeda founder had been hiding out in Pakistan for five years, as some have claimed. If that figure is true, Musharraf argued, then two of those years fell during his presidency and he is "500 percent sure" he did not know bin Laden's location.
The Pakistani army must also clarify why it has not been more aggressive against terrorist groups located in North Waziristan, the mountainous region in the country's northwest, according to Musharraf, who served as army chief of staff before seizing the presidency in a coup.
Meanwhile, Washington could improve relations by examining how the planned 2014 withdrawal of U.S. troops from neighboring Afghanistan will impact Pakistan and the region.
"Are you leaving a stable Afghanistan or an unstable Afghanistan? Because based on that, I in Pakistan will have to take my own countermeasures," the former president warned. The "adverse impact will be on Pakistan, so any leader in Pakistan must think of securing Pakistan's interests."
He said that the United States must take action to prevent India from turning Kabul against Pakistan and accused his country's historic rival of working through intelligence, military and diplomatic contacts to fuel sentiment against Islamabad.
In addition, the United States and other world powers should stop saying the South Asia state is not doing enough to fight terrorist and extremist groups, Musharraf said. He called such assertions "so annoying to the common man in Pakistan."
The international community has also eyed the South Asian state warily for some time over worries that internal strife could provide terrorists an opportunity to steal one of its nuclear warheads or enough weapon-grade material to build a crude atomic device.
The concern was highlighted in May when a handful of Taliban extremists mounted a nearly daylong assault on the Mehran naval base in Karachi (see GSN, May 24).
Pakistan is believed to have the world's fastest growing nuclear stockpile, with some reports estimating the arsenal at between 90 and 110 warheads (see GSN, July 1). Musharraf on Tuesday confirmed Islamabad's nuclear weapons "are not mated," meaning the atomic payloads are kept separate from the required delivery platforms.
He added that the locations of the weapons themselves remain clandestine and are in places "nobody can access."
Musharraf said Pakistan's nuclear capability "is a pride to every man in the street" and the direct result of existential threats the country sees itself facing.
While the former president did not mention India by name, Pakistan's rush to develop an atomic stockpile is largely viewed as the response to New Delhi's own nuclear arms buildup.
The nuclear-armed nations have gone to war three times since 1947. Islamabad and New Delhi earlier this year agreed to relaunch a stagnant peace process that would tackle worries associated with their respective nuclear arsenals (see GSN, June 27).
Musharraf said it was "unfortunate" that former top Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan delivered nuclear designs and technology out of the country. He noted the nation "suffered in prestige" due to the illicit smuggling ring.
Khan confessed in 2004 to providing nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The scientist spent five years under house arrest before being released in 2009.
In a possible reference to India, Musharraf said Pakistan's atomic program "will go along with the world, certainly, on all safeguards" against proliferation, such as those imposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, as long as they are "applicable to others in the world."
"Do not, please, single out Pakistan," he told the audience. "It will not be acceptable to Pakistan."