GWOT BFF Musharraf “Not particularly looking for” Osama bin Laden

by Joshua Foust on 1/8/2008 · 3 comments

Fascinating interview of Pervez Musharraf, courtesy 60 Minutes.

“But the question is really within that fight against extremism, what are you doing – if you like – to find Osama Bin Laden?” Logan asks. “That’s what Americans want to know.”

“Okay. We are fighting first of all al Qaeda. Let’s take al Qaeda. We have arrested or eliminated about 700 al Qaeda leaders. Only Pakistan has done it. And lately also whoever has been killed or arrested, I challenge — who else, which other country has done this?” Musharraf asks.

“Well, which other country has Osama bin Laden?” Logan replies.

“No, I challenge– I don’t accept that at all. There is no proof whatsoever that he is here in Pakistan,” Musharraf says.

“But are you looking for him?” Logan asks.

“No, again, the same answer,” Musharraf says. “We are not particularly looking for him but we are operating against terrorists and al Qaeda and militant Taliban. And in the process, obviously, it is combined, maybe we are looking for him also. Yes. If he’s here?” …

“We must not say that Taliban are in Pakistan. Pakistan, this is a frontier region. Two tribal agencies of Pakistan,” Musharraf says.

“It’s still inside Pakistan. Any way you look at it,” Logan points out.

“But it’s a small part the population and it is this population where they hide and they get support,” Musharraf says.

“But they regrouped under…,” Logan says.

“Yes, indeed,” Musharraf says.

“…your watch?” Logan says.

“No, they regrouped because — not under us. Because of Afghanistan. Okay?” Musharraf says.

“But under your term as president,” Logan remarks.

“Yes. Yes, indeed,” Musharraf acknowledges.

“They have regrouped and they are stronger than ever,” Logan says.

“Well, Taliban. Yes. They may be. They may be getting stronger. I can’t say for sure,” Musharraf says.

Asked if the U.S. shares any of the blame in this, Musharraf says, “Yes, of course. I mean everyone, the whole coalition should share the blame for not succeeding.”

Naturally, Uncle Pervy cares more that some in Pakistan thinks he was responsible for Bhutto’s assassination. He tries to blame her (assigning her “sole responsibility” for being shot/bombed/thwacked by a lever in a sunroof) for poking her head out of her armoured SUV—which is a legit complaint—but then also assigns blame to a particularly intransigent Mullah named Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander in Waziristan.

Why does Musharraf seem to care more about accusations of his involvement in Bhutto’s murder than the hunt for Osama bin Laden? Despite his protestations that he’s done a stellar job of hunting down the very al Qaeda that had infested the southwestern half of his country, he doesn’t particularly care about terrorism per se. Rather, he cares about these accusations because they might actually affect his power base. Like Bhutto, he is power mad, and far more concerned with his status as president than anything else.

Interestingly, this account of a meeting of Jamiat Ulema-e Islami reveals, yet again, the best way to handle the problems posed by both Musharraf and the parasitic Bhutto clan: free, fair, and open elections. I have received much flak here for my insistence that said elections could accomplish much in Pakistan. Nicholas Schmidle, however, offers this anecdote:

Efforts at democratic integration by parties like the J.U.I. have now been overshadowed by the violence of their antidemocratic Islamist colleagues – a network of younger Taliban fighting on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, jihadis pledging loyalty to Al Qaeda and any number of freelancing militants. Disrupting and discrediting democracy may, of course, be the point. The Bhutto assassination could well make moderation impossible, as Islamist radicals savor their disruptive power – and enraged mainstream parties threaten the stability of the government itself…

Maulana Fazlur Rehman is exactly the sort of “political mullah” whom Muhammad portrayed as running scared. In the past year, the J.U.I. chief has tried to disassociate himself from the new generation of Taliban wreaking havoc not only across the border in Afghanistan, as they have for years, but also increasingly in Pakistan. At the same time, Rehman has been trying to persuade foreign ambassadors and establishment politicians here that he is the only one capable of dealing with those same Taliban. (Rehman told me that he never offered Muhammad a chance to enter the election; he even added that the J.U.I. had already expelled the Taliban guru “on disciplinary grounds.” ) In the process, some Islamists maintain that Rehman has sold them out. Last April, a rocket whistled over the sugarcane fields that separate Rehman’s house from the main road before crashing into the veranda of his brother’s home next door. A few months later, Pakistani intelligence agencies discovered a hit list, drafted by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, with Rehman’s name on it.

It is an intriguing split in Islamist politics. But it’s not just Pakistan: both Turkey and Algeria have seen the crazies roundly defeated or forced into moderation by inclusion in an open political process. In the EU, too, some of the more radical fringe green parties have seen a similar dynamic play out—either moderate your views, or consign yourself to miniscule representation, if any at all can be had. Banning parties like a third rate African despot (or even a first-rate Asian tyrant) is the way to increase extremism, not defeat it.

Given Musharraf’s insistence he’s going after al Qaeda, but not the Taliban, but the Taliban are Afghans, and it’s all Afghanistan’s fault, but the Taliban are clearly Pakistani as well, and he doesn’t care about OBL but does care about his political opponents… well, one can certainly be forgiven for thinking that maybe, just maybe, a “normal” election is perhaps exactly what the doctor ordered?

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Steve LeVine January 8, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Josh, is Musharraf obsessed with Bhutto’s death or is the interviewer? It seems to me that it’s the former. When he replies, it also seems that he makes a pretty good case. Bhutto seems almost to have been reckless. When I go to Pakistan, for instance, I follow standard rules of security. One can still be killed, but at least you are trying. Where is the personal effort to shield herself from the unpredictability of a swarming crowd? As we’ve discussed earlier, other world leaders facing death threats, specifically Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, curbed their exposure after being targeted. Not Bhutto. She’s not following standard security rules.

I also take issue with the interviewer’s obnoxious approach to OBL. The United States — the prime target of OBL’s attacks since the late 1990s — has marginalized its search for OBL. Not that Musharraf is blameless, but I think it’s the primary duty of the U.S., particularly given this particular administration’s fear-mongering bellicosity on the subject of terror. The interviewer does not seem to understand this nuance.

Your point on free and open elections is spot on. Not sure that I find any sympathy for Fazl ur-Rehman, the prime patron of the original Taliban. But open elections.

Steve LeVine January 8, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Sorry, I mean to say in the first sentence that it’s the interviewer who is obsessed, not Musharraf

Joshua Foust January 12, 2008 at 8:31 pm

You’re right. I don’t find sympathy for Rehman, for exactly that reason, but the split within the Taliban itself is intriguing: the prospect of a real stake in power seems to be schisming the more extremist faction from the faction that can accept a degree of moderation. That might be exploitable.

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