President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday categorically ruled out any possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals falling into the hands of extremist forces, saying a competent command and control system is in place to look after these national assets.
He said if al-Qaeda or Taliban wanted to get hold of our nuclear assets, they would have to defeat the Pakistan Army or win the general elections. "I do not see any of these happening, so there is no chance our nuclear arsenal could get into unsafe hands," he stated.
Delivering a hard-hitting lecture at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in response to Western media’s onslaught expressing deep concerns over the prevailing situation in Pakistan and doubting its leadership’s capacity to overcome the existing crisis, the president said the Western media and its leadership projected contrasting views.
"If you ask the head of CIA or top officials of western intelligence agencies, they will talk contrary to the point of view being projected by the western media against Pakistan and its leadership. There is total dichotomy. It is unfortunate that the people in the west do not believe us," Musharraf said authoritatively.
"When Pakistan became nuclear power, things were in careless hands. We created a Strategic Plan Division which led to setting up of a Command and Control Authority that looks after all aspects, including security of the country’s nuclear weapons. We have ensured multi-layer custodial controls," he explained.
Referring to the impression that Pakistan might break up as a result of the current political turmoil and trouble in some tribal areas, Musharraf said nothing could be more unfounded. "Balochistan is the most peaceful province as compared to others. The only trouble there is the existence of an Afghan refugees’ camp and we have asked the agency concerned to remove it," he added.
Musharraf said there was some trouble in the NWFP province and added that it has seven agencies which constituted three per cent of the country’s area and added that the people living in North and South Waziristan were only 0.03 per cent of Pakistan’s population. How such a small number of people could defeat 500,000 strong army, he asked, saying he was confident that these elements could not cause break-up of Pakistan.
Replying to a question, Musharraf said it was true that Osama and Mullah Umar have not been arrested so far. We have deployed 100,000 troops to fight a particular mind-set representing extremism and terrorism. He agreed with a questioner that there might be some supporters of Taliban in the Pakistan Army but said their number was negligible.
President Musharraf said that Isaf chief has recently stated that there was 42 per cent reduction in cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan from the Pakistani side. Referring to the criticism of Pakistan Army in western media, the president said it was the most professional and experienced force in the world. He cited Pak Army’s role and contribution as peacekeepers under the United Nations.
"Pakistan Army is basically an order-oriented and most disciplined force. Now we are trying to make it an initiative-oriented force," he said.He said he had commanded the Pakistan Army for nine years and he still enjoyed respect of its rank and file. He said he had fought two wars with India.
"I have never been a paper-pusher ever in my life." Agencies add: Musharraf said it’s more important to battle the remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban militia than chase after top al-Qaida leaders.
That Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are still at large ìdoesn’t mean much,î Musharraf said. He suggested that those men — wanted the world over and whom he hasn’t been able to catch over the past six years — are less of a threat to his regime than the Taliban running roughshod over part of his country.
ìThe 100,000 troops that we are using … are not going around trying to locate Osama bin Laden and Zawahri, frankly,î Musharraf said. ìThey are operating against terrorists, and in the process, if we get them, we will deal with them certainly.î
President Musharraf defended the role of Pakistan Army in the overall context of maintaining peace and stability in the country and upholding national integrity. "It hurts me and my government when some body casts aspersions on the role of Pakistan Army," the president said.
During the course of his one and half hour speech President Musharraf rejected the false notions that extremists can take over the country. "As long as Pakistan Army is there no body should think in terms of breaking the country," he said.
The president also strongly rejected allegations and propaganda by the western media that ISI had been involved in any kind of terrorism whatsoever. The ISI and other law-enforcement agencies are working jointly with CIA to deal with the al-Qaeda and militant Taliban, he said.
"Since ISI and CIA are working together and if there is a failure in defeating terrorists it would be a joint failure," he said. Referring to strong command and control system safeguarding nuclear assets, President Musharraf said there is absolutely no chance of these assets falling into the hands of extremists.
Answering a question, he said there has been some instability, but the people of Pakistan will see peace, progress and sustained economic growth after the forthcoming general election. President Musharraf said he is looking forward to working with the new government in total harmony, most particularly for bringing peace and prosperity to the people and overcoming major issues amicably.
Regarding peace in the region, he said issues of Kashmir and Palestine have to be resolved to get rid of the option of war forever. He said Palestine is a core issue, which affects the minds of the people all over the Muslim world and added the West should play its due role in conflict resolution to deal with problem of extremism.
He said the government of Pakistan has adopted a multi-pronged strategy to control the menace of terrorism and extremism. Terming poverty and illiteracy root causes of terrorism, the president said the west must consider how it can help improve the socioeconomic life of deprived sections of the society.
About the upheaval in the Muslim world, he said it was the result of the feelings of anger, frustration and helplessness and underlined the need for unity of the entire peace-loving countries to assist in facing the challenges of peace and security.
President Musharraf also spoke on the inter-civilisation dialogue and emphasised the need for all societies and religious groups to try to improve understanding and harmony amongst themselves to achieve the desired results.
He lamented that over the years Islam was being targeted and projected as religion of terrorism. It seems that there was no war on terror but war on Islam, and this impression and feeling must be removed.
President Musharraf also briefed the audience about the economic achievements of Pakistan during recent years and hoped the socioeconomic growth would be sustained in the years to come. Regarding his vision of enlightened moderation, he said it reflects the Muslim mind and philosophy of moderate and civilised polity with respect for other religions and civilisations.