Q Thank you, sir. You’ve talked repeatedly about how pleased you’ve been with President Musharraf’s cooperation in the arrest of al Qaeda suspects. But are you not disappointed that his army has somewhat downgraded the search for Osama bin Laden?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Quite the contrary. His army has been incredibly active and very brave in southern Waziristan, flushing out an enemy that had thought they had found safe haven. His army has suffered casualty, and for that, we want to thank their loved ones for the sacrifice that their family has made.
But our cooperation has been very strong. But let me just say something. Friends don’t sit there and have a score card that says, well, he did this, or he did that, and therefore, somebody is — there’s a deficit. Our relationship is much bigger than that. Our relationship is one where we work closely together for the common good of our own people and for the common good of the world.
“He is alive, but more than that, where he is, no, it’ll be just a guess and it won’t have much basis,” Musharraf said in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters. Pressed on whether the trail had gone cold, he said, “Yes, if you mean we don’t know, from that point of view, we don’t know where he is.”
The United States shares major responsibility, Musharraf suggested, because the U.S.-led coalition does not have enough troops in Afghanistan, which has left “voids.” The United States and its allies need to expedite the training and expansion of the new Afghan army as the only viable alternative, he said.
Challenges in Afghanistan would be better dealt with “if the Afghan national army is raised faster, in more strength, so that they can reach out to fill these voids that I am talking about, where U.S. forces or coalition forces are not there,” he said.
The Bush administration played down any tension over continuing efforts by U.S. investigators to learn more about the black market nuclear technology network run by Pakistan’s premier scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan. U.S. officials believe Khan has not been fully candid in disclosing the scope of his help to nations such as Libya seeking to develop nuclear bombs. But Pakistan has refused to allow U.S. or International Atomic Energy Agency investigators to interrogate Khan, who was pardoned by Musharraf and remains in Pakistan under what officials call house arrest.
During their closed meeting, attended by Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, outgoing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his designated successor, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Bush talked with Musharraf about obtaining more information from Khan but did not ask for direct access, according to a senior administration official.
During the Post interview, Musharraf ruled out granting any outsiders access to Khan because it would ignite anger among a public that has long revered Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. “It’s a very sensitive issue inside Pakistan,” he said. “The man has been a hero for the masses.” In addition, Musharraf said he considers any such request a personal affront. “It shows a lack of trust.”
PRESIDENT BUSH: One of the interesting lessons that the world can look at is Pakistan. You see, there are some in the world who do not believe that a Muslim society can self-govern. Some believe that the only solution for government in parts of the world is for there to be tyranny or despotism. I don’t believe that. The Pakistan people have proven that those cynics are wrong. And where President Musharraf can help in world peace is to help remind people what is possible.
Musharraf, an army general who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, signaled again that he may break his promise to surrender his position as head of the Pakistani military by the end of the year. Although he made the promise in an attempt to demonstrate his commitment to restoring full democracy to Pakistan, Musharraf said in the interview that he may retain his dual roles as civilian and military leader to guarantee “the sustainability of our policies.”
But he grew testy at the suggestion that such a move would undermine his country’s democratic development.
Musharraf said Bush did not push him to relinquish his army post or take any new steps toward democracy. A senior administration official said Musharraf has committed to moving toward full democracy “at a pace that works for Pakistan” and praised his moves so far. “The institutions of democracy are strong; he’s making them stronger,” the official said in a briefing. “He’s made it clear he intends to go the full way.”
And then on Sunday:
BLITZER: Was the U.S. justified to go to war and remove Saddam Hussein?
MUSHARRAF: Well, we were against it initially. Pakistan was against going into Iraq. And now, with hindsight, one can say that we’ve landed ourselves into additional problems.
But having said that, I would like to say that Saddam Hussein was certainly not a person who was loved in Iraq. He was a hated man. He was very cruel. Those are the realities.
But when we go inside and when we are now inside as foreigners, people at the lower level don’t like the visibility of foreign troops ruling their country.
BLITZER: So the bottom line, is the world safer today as a result of the removal, the invasion of Iraq, or is the world less safe?
MUSHARRAF: Oh, I think it’s less safe, certainly. We are…
BLITZER: So it was a mistake for President Bush to order this invasion, with hindsight?
MUSHARRAF: Yes, with hindsight, yes. We have landed ourselves in more problems, yes.