While promising to take action against terrorists operating out of his country, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari warns against an over reaction to the Mumbai terror attack. In this interview to Karan Thapar for “Devil’s Advocate” programme, Mr. Zardari says India and Pakistan face a threat from the same forces with the same mindset.
Karan Thapar: President Zardari, how do you respond to the terrorist strike in Mumbai, which has killed perhaps as many as 200 people and left several hundred injured?
Asif Ali Zardari: I am appalled, Sir. I am hurt, I am bleeding. Your wound takes and brings attention to my wound, which is also very recent. I stand with the people of India. I stand with the leadership of India. I am sorry that you all are going through this. I can see it on the television. Today’s television, today’s information technology brings all the pain to us in our bedrooms in our homes.
Q: So you are saying that you see a strike on Mumbai and a strike on India as something similar to a strike on Karachi or Pakistan?
A: I totally stand in that light, Karan. I empathise with the people of Bombay. I feel the pain. I feel their loss and my heart goes out to their loss and the people you have lost.
Q: I hear what you say, President Zardari. Now yesterday, the Indian Prime Minister spoke with you, he spoke with your Prime Minister and he indicated the sort of evidence India has, which suggests some sort of connection to people in Pakistan. Can you assure the Indian people that Pakistan will do everything it can to investigate and to inquire into this connection so that we get to the bottom of this matter?
A: Most definitely, sir. Furthermore, Karan, this is a world incident. Today, every terrorist act is a world incident and [there are] multinational casualties. I am sure that the world intelligence agencies will be called. But at the same time, as the President of Pakistan let me assure you [that] if any evidence points to any individual or group in my part of the country, I shall take the strictest of action in the light of the evidence and in front of the world.
Q: So you are saying that you will cooperate with any investigation and any inquiry whatsoever without any hesitation.
A: Without any hesitation whatsoever, no matter where it may lead.
Q: Now, yesterday it was announced in Islamabad that the Director-General of the ISI would be coming to India. We believe, overnight that decision may have been reversed and you may have changed your mind. What is the position, President Zardari? Is the Director-General … [coming]?
A: No, Karan. There was a miscommunication. We had announced that Director would come from ISI, because it is too early for the Directors General to meet at the moment. Let the evidence come to light; let the investigation take its course. Then, perhaps, is the position where the Directors General could meet.
Q: So you are saying at the moment a Director of the ISI will come. Is that right?
A: Yes. That was what I was requested by Manmohan Singh and that was what was agreed between us.
Q: So the Indian Prime Minister requested for a Director, not for the Director General.
A: Not for the Director General. And they would not, because Director General is too senior. He is not a person to get into investigation; he is a person to overall look into the investigation.
Q: But you also said a moment ago that the Director General himself could come later on. You don’t rule out the possibility.
A: I do not rule out the possibility of cooperation of the highest echelons of intelligence agencies.
Q: Which includes the Director General, if need be?
A: Which would include the Director General.
Q: Now there are two issues, President Zardari, that concern the Indian government and the Indian people. I’d like to put them to you. The first is, the Indians believe that there are terrorist camps in places like PoK and NWFP. Last year in September, your late wife, in an interview, gave an assurance to the Indian people that if she became Prime Minister, she would close down all such camps. Sadly, she didn’t live to become Prime Minister. But today, you are President of Pakistan. Can you fulfil that promise on her behalf?
A: Most definitely, Karan. I assure you, if any evidence points out to any camps… if we are aware of anything of that sort, we will not only close down, but [also] take action against those people who are running those camps of any sort.
Q: Now the second issue, and again it was one that I raised with your late wife last year in September in an interview, was the fact that the Indian government would like access to question people like Hafiz Mohammed Syed, Mohammed Azhar, Dawood Ibrahim. All of these people have spit venom at India, they threatened violence. When I raised this issue with your wife, she said if she became Prime Minister, she would try and ensure that India could have access to question these people. Can you try and make sure the same access is made available?
A: Karan, you are talking about a procedural matter, which requires a court of law and requires rules and regulations. So we have to have a common agreement on this… of this kind. We have to come into a bilateral relationship, where we have interactive relationship where we can question people who we find responsible for acts in our part of the country and you find people responsible in our part of the country. But I’m willing to go to that mutual assistance agreement if times ask for it.
Q: In other words, you are saying that you don’t have a closed mind and if the procedures and the processes can be put in place you are happy to give India access to question people like Hafiz Mohammed Syed.
A: First of all, Karan, we are all moving out of the hemisphere of where is the evidence. We would like to see the evidence just to say that there is an individual [behind it]. Karan, I would like to address you and the people of India here if you would allow me two minutes.
Q: Go ahead, please.
A: I applaud and I request the people of India and the leadership of India [that] at strange times and such difficult times, ask for leaderships to go beyond their own selves. We need to look at it as [an] action of non-state actors. We have seen in the recent past, in the very recent past history that non-state actors have managed to take superpowers to war. We should always think beyond the action. What is the meaning of this action? What do the non-state actors want out of this action?
A: They are always looking for the reaction. They are not looking for the action. The action is the first impetus. The second is the reaction. What somebody wants… whoever responsible for this brutal and crude act against the Indian people and India are looking for the reaction. We have to rise above that and make sure we defend ourselves, yourselves, and the world community at large from an over reaction.
Q: Ok. My last question, President Zardari. There are many things that you have said today that would be very reassuring to the Indian people. They were things that you said last week, Saturday, at the Hindustan Times Summit, which got a lot of applause and praise in India. But people raise one question. They say, Mr. Zardari has the right intentions, he says the right things. Can he, will he, deliver on his assurances and his promises? How do you answer that concern?
A: Sir, I delivered because I stand by my people. I am delivering for Pakistan; I am delivering for the existence of Pakistan. I have a personal threat. I have a country threat by these same forces. They may not be the same individuals, but they are definitely the same forces with the same mindset. So I am not standing in to appease any other people. I am trying to save my own nation, my own country and the future of my children. So therefore I am as committed as can be.
Q: So what you’re saying is [that] because it is in your own interest to act, the people of India and the Government of India can trust Asif Ali Zardari.
A: Sir, they can trust the people of Pakistan to stand with the people of India against these odds. And we do need to understand that this is a regional threat, it is a world threat and all the region has to stand up against this threat together.
Karan Thapar: President Zardari, thank you very much for speaking to Devil’s Advocate. That was President Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan, speaking exclusively to this programme.