General Musharraf insists: I'm not George Bush's poodle...I am merely his mutt
- Friday April 28, 2006
I'm not George Bush's poodle
* · General says US air strikes infringe sovereignty
* · President denies running military dictatorship
Declan Walsh and Simon Tisdall in Rawalpindi
General Pervez Musharraf, facing a surge of anti-American sentiment,
yesterday warned that covert US air strikes against al-Qaida inside Pakistan
were an infringement of national sovereignty.
Admitting that his popularity was waning, the Pakistani president insisted
he was "not a poodle" of George Bush and rejected accusations he was running
a military dictatorship.
Speaking to the Guardian at Army House in Rawalpindi weeks after a tense
visit by the US president that brought a torrent of domestic criticism, Gen
Musharraf insisted he was his own man.
"When you are talking about fighting terrorism or extremism, I'm not doing
that for the US or Britain. I'm doing it for Pakistan," he said. "It's not a
question of being a poodle. I'm nobody's poodle. I have enough strength of
my own to lead."
If necessary he had "teeth" to bite back, he added. "Yes sir, I personally
do. A lot of teeth. Sometimes the teeth do not have to be shown. Pragmatism
is required in international relations." Gen Musharraf pledged to hold free
and fair elections next year as urged by Mr Bush during his visit to
Islamabad last month. Opposition parties fear the poll, which government
officials claim will be the most open since Gen Musharraf seized power in
1999, will be rigged.
"It is ironic that I'm sitting in uniform talking of democracy ... but to
bring democracy into Pakistan I thought I needed it," he said.
An American Predator drone fired Hellfire missiles at a house in Bajaur
tribal agency in January, killing 18 people but missing their target,
al-Qaida's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The attack near the Afghan
border caused public uproar and brought renewed accusations that Gen
Musharraf was a US puppet.
Local journalist Hayatullah Khan, who photographed missile fragments linking
the strikes to the US, disappeared four days later and is still missing. A
western diplomat said he was probably being held by Pakistani intelligence
and may have been mistreated.
The strike underlined tensions in the anti-terror alliance between Pakistan
and the US, which has also been strained by Washington's nuclear deal with
India, its insistence on democratic reforms, and alleged American meddling
in the sprawling south-western province of Baluchistan. "The strike was an
infringement of our sovereignty and I condemned it," said Gen Musharraf.
Pakistan also faces criticism from the US and Afghanistan for not doing
enough to flush extremists from its tribal areas. Mr Bush said he had come
to Islamabad "to determine whether or not the president is as committed as
he has been in the past to bringing these terrorists to justice".
Gen Musharraf insisted yesterday there was no question of Pakistan
submitting to American scrutiny and said claims that his government acted at
Washington's bidding were nonsense. "There is no need of any checks - that
is the reality," he said.
Gen Musharraf, who faces revolts in Baluchistan and along the Afghan border,
admitted to feeling embattled. He added that there was a growing problem of
"Talibanisation" in Waziristan, a troubled tribal area where several hundred
al-Qaida suspects have been killed.
The battle against al-Qaida was almost won in Waziristan, he said. "Because
of our successes in the cities where we got 600-700 of them, and then in the
mountains where we occupied their sanctuaries, thankfully they are on the
But a new form of local fundamentalism was taking its place in Waziristan,
which is ruled directly from Islamabad under colonial-era laws. "Extremism
in a Talibanised form is what people are now going for. Mullah Omar and the
Taliban have influence in Waziristan and it's spilling over into our settled
This week militants occupied a market in the regional capital, Miran Shah,
for several hours, burning newspapers and threatening local people. Two taxi
drivers accused of collaborating with coalition forces in nearby Afghanistan
were found beheaded. More than 150 pro-government elders and officials have
been killed in the past year.
Gen Musharraf defended his tactic of using military force instead of
negotiation to quell the violence and said some collateral damage was
inevitable when militants' hideouts were attacked.
"We take extreme care to be 100% sure of the target from all sources of
intelligence ... There is minimum collateral damage. If someone happens to
be very close to [the target], that somebody is an abetter and they suffer
the loss. Sometimes, indeed, women and children have been killed but they
have been right next to the place. It's not that the strike was inaccurate
but they happen to be there, so therefore they are all supporters and
abetters of terrorism - and therefore they have to suffer. It's bad luck,"
Gen Musharraf also played down unrest in the resource-rich province of
Baluchistan, where nationalist militants are blowing up gas pipelines and
trains and attacking army positions. He described the rebels as
"mercenaries" and their attacks as "pin pricks", and said the disturbances
were confined to one-twentieth of the province's area.
"So what revolt are you talking about? People talk about an East Pakistan
situation," he said, referring to the secession of Bangladesh in 1971. "I
understand strategy. These people are pygmies."
Criticism of his military-driven strategy came from "people who sit in
drawing rooms and talk", he said, but added that a political solution was
also being sought.
Gen Musharraf has survived two assassination attempts but elections
scheduled for next year are expected to pose the greatest threat yet to his
grip on power. Overt and behind-the-scenes US and British pressure for a
free poll has become another friction point in the west's relationship with
The leaders of the two main opposition parties, Benazir Bhutto of the
Pakistan Peoples party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, are
in exile and face arrest if they return home. Meeting in London this week
they launched a fresh political alliance and called for western support.
Gen Musharraf said his mission was to democratise Pakistan. "My popularity
has gone down ... but at this moment my country needs me. I've put a strong
constitutional democratic system in place. That will throw up a successor.
I'm a strong believer in democracy."
Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 when he was head
of the country's armed forces, forcing the country's elected prime minister,
Nawaz Sharif, into exile in Saudi Arabia. Initial international condemnation
faded after September 2001, when Gen Musharraf dropped his support for the
Taliban and threw his weight behind the US-led "war on terror". He has since
become a key ally in the west's hunt for al-Qaida extremists but his
popularity has plummeted due to widespread anti-American sentiment. In
December 2003 he survived two al-Qaida assassination attempts in two weeks.
Gen Musharraf attempted to legitimise his rule through elections in 2002
that observers described as deeply flawed. A self-described liberal, he has
introduced some social reforms but also allied himself with hardline
religious parties when necessary. Last year he advanced the peace process
with India through "cricket diplomacy".