ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf has dismissed the impression that Pakistan’s nuclear assets could fall into the hands of extremists and said that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are safe and under full command and control system. He also ruled out the possibility of extremists and fanatics taking over the country. “One thing is for sure; The fanatics can never take over Pakistan. This is not possible,” President Musharraf said in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel. He held al-Qaeda responsible for carrying out terrorism in the country’s tribal areas and masterminding suicide bombings, but rejected it was strong enough both militarily and politically to get an overall command.
“They are neither militarily so strong that they can defeat our army, with its 600,000 soldiers, nor politically—and they do not stand a chance of winning elections. They are much too weak for that,” he said.
The President termed “totally misplaced” remarks by Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of International Atomic Energy Agency, who had expressed concerns that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of extremists. He said after becoming chief executive in 1999, he introduced a custodial control under ‘Army Strategic Force Command’, which was organized like a military corps to keep the nuclear assets safe. “Everything is accounted for. Terrorists could not even take out a bolt from a rifle,” he added.
He ruled out the possibility of individuals inside the army or the ISI sympathizing with religious fanatics that could infiltrate nuclear system. “The ISI does not handle any nuclear issue at all. They have nothing to do with it.” Of covert operations by United States in Pakistan’s tribal belt, President Musharraf said, “I would never allow American forces to operate on Pakistan’s soil. If we need support, we ask for it. It is we who are operating, nobody else.” He said Pakistan and the US fully shared coordination on anti-terrorism, and mentioned his recent meeting with US intelligence officials who conveyed him that President Bush considered President Musharraf “a most sincere friend”.
On Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, the President said he was sure the “militant extremists” killed her as the voice of Baitullah Mehsud had been tapped expressing satisfaction over her death. About contradictory reports on how Ms Bhutto’s was killed, he said one should never give a final statement until investigation had been finished.
On doubts about transparency in general election, President Musharraf said international observers had been invited in this regard. When asked whether he would be willing to work with opposition leaders like Nawaz Sharif or Asif Ali Zardari, who publicly accused the government of being responsible for Ms Bhutto’s murder, President Musharraf said, “I am ready to work with whoever wins.” He said he was ready to work with any opposition leader because national interests should reign supreme, besides ensuring continuity of economic progress and fighting terrorism.
On the change of command in the army, President Musharraf said if the army chief works in total harmony with the president and the prime minister, the three could do the job better than one. Counting on the loyalty of Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, he said, “There is something even stronger than personal loyalty – – loyalty to a cause, for a vision. Kayani and I share that vision on Pakistan, on the Taliban, on al-Qaeda, on politics, on human rights and on the media. We are two of a kind.”
He termed economic revival as his government’s greatest achievement, besides curbing terrorism and extremism. The President said things perhaps had gone better, but there was still a lot to be done on these fronts. Asked did he considers himself the next possible target after surviving two assassination attempts, President Musharraf said, “Shots either hit you, or they do not.” He said he had been lucky that assassins did not get him, adding that he always took measures for his safety and knew how to protect himself. Asked if any circumstances could lead to his resignation, President Musharraf said, “Believe me; On the day I think the people, the majority, don’t want me any more and the day I think I have no contribution to make to this country, I will not wait a second. I will leave.”
About the new US government and possible change in political course with Pakistan in view of presidential candidates’ statements supporting US operations in Pakistan, President Musharraf hoped that when the new US government gets access to intelligence, it would not take a different approach than its predecessor. “Why would they want to do something to destabilize us, a nuclear power? They will not act against their own national interest,” he said.-SANA