Today's date:
Spring 2006

On Iran’s Nukes, A.Q. Khan and Hamas

Pervez Musharraf is the president of Pakistan. He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels on Jan. 26, at the meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

NPQ | India and Pakistan are the newest members of the nuclear club after the end of the Cold War. Why should you be allowed to have nuclear weapons, but not Iran?

Pervez Musharraf | Our security strategy is formulated in response to threat perception. That strategy is called “defensive deterrence.” Until a few years ago, our deterrent involved only conventional forces to defend against the Indian threat. Then India went atomic and the balance was tilted against us. Our strategy of defensive deterrence was compromised. We had to go nuclear in order to gain back the deterrent balance

Why did India go nuclear? It has its own projection, its vision of its role in the world which led it to that. Certainly it wasn’t to defend India against Pakistan.

Why should Iran go nuclear? I honestly don’t know. I don’t see any threat to Iran. We are against proliferation. We oppose anyone who is enriching uranium with the purpose in mind of making nuclear weapons.

NPQ | What has A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist who sold nuclear secrets and materiel around the world, told you about what he gave to the Iranians and their intentions?

Musharraf | This individual proliferator adversely affected the reputation and name of Pakistan with his activities. He transferred the design and parts of centrifuges, as well as several centrifuge devices, to Iran.

Having said that, these centrifuges are only for the enrichment of uranium. The production of nuclear bombs involves much more. To make a bomb, you not only have to extract uranium and convert it to gas. You must also enrich this gas. Having enriched it, you must have the technology to make it into a core. But that core alone is just a “shot” that won’t explode. You need a trigger mechanism, which is very high technology. A.Q. Khan did not have knowledge of this technology. That is not his expertise. He is a metallurgist. Then, on top of all this, you need a delivery system.

What I’m trying to say is that A.Q. Khan only proliferated the capacity to enrich uranium, not make bombs.

NPQ | What is the best way to deal with Iran on this nuclear issue?

Musharraf | The issue here is a lack of trust between Iran and the United States, which sees Iran as seeking more from enriched uranium and the nuclear fuel cycle than is required for energy purposes alone.

There is an impasse headed toward confrontation. Clearly, both sides have to compromise. We don’t need to open a new front of confrontation; there are enough already in the Middle East region and the Muslim world. We need to close fronts.

NPQ | Is there a contradiction in your criticism of the Iranian nuclear program but at the same time going through with the pipeline deal that would bring natural gas from Iran to Pakistan and India?

Musharraf | I don’t see any contradiction at all. The pipeline is totally an economic project which will be good for Iran, Pakistan and India. It doesn’t contribute in any way to Iran’s nuclear program. And our stand on proliferation won’t be affected. Iran sells energy to countries all over the world, including Japan and China. We need energy to feed our economy, or our industrial growth will be hampered in a very big way.

NPQ | Hamas won the Palestinian election. How should the US, your partner in the war on terrorism, deal with Hamas, which the US considers a terrorist group?

Musharraf | Policies change with the situation—look at the evolution of Ariel Sharon from anti-peace to peacemaker. Who could have imagined that people would be praying for him because he was the only person who could deliver peace? If he could change, why not Hamas?

Now, Hamas has spent its existence fighting Israel. I hope that Hamas realizes that, for the sake of the Palestinians, it must give up this role of confrontation. It must go for a conciliatory approach and accept the two-state solution. And if it does that, then the US should also accept this reality. Hamas is the people’s representatives. That is democracy, after all.

NPQ | Did the US ask Pakistan for permission before it bombed the house in the northern region where it thought Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al Qaeda leader, was?

Musharraf | No, we were not asked, and we didn’t give any permission. It was a violation of sovereignty.

Only Pakistani forces are allowed to operate in Pakistan. We obviously do not have the military or technological capacity of the US, but that does not mean we want US forces operating in our country. Once you have intelligence, the operations are not so difficult. We coordinate intelligence. But the rules of operations are very clear: Only our forces can operate in our country.

It is not an issue of capability, but of sovereignty and the sensibility of Pakistanis. We insist on this point. And it also applies to Al Qaeda. It violates our sovereignty with its presence hiding in the mountains on our side of the Afghan border.

NPQ | What do you make of the re-emergence of Osama bin Laden in a recent audiotape? Does anyone have any idea where he is?

Musharraf | There is a lot of conjecture about where Osama bin Laden is, but nobody knows. If we find out, we will act. I can’t be sure if he is dead or alive. There is some indication he is missing.

In the meantime, the world must understand that terrorism and extremism are two different things. You cannot lump them together. Terrorism has to be fought militarily with force up front. Extremism is a state of mind. You can’t fight it militarily. Since extremism is at the root of terrorism—only extremists become terrorists—you need a long-term strategy. That strategy is “enlightened moderation”—isolating those who spread extremism, education of youth and economic development. Pakistan is the only country in the world, as far as I know, that is trying to deal with terrorism and extremism in the short- and long-term perspective.

Military strategy is not an end in itself. It only buys time for other longer term strategies, including economic development, to eliminate extremism. Anyone who thinks military force will work on its own is on the wrong path.

On the international level, we have successfully encouraged the Organization of Islamic States to accept this approach of “enlightened moderation” that condemns terrorism and pursues social and economic development to stem extremism. That is an important step forward.