Today's date:
Spring 2008

Suicide Bombers Are Not VIPs in Paradise

Pervez Musharraf is the president of Pakistan. He answered questions for NPQ and others gathered at a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

NPQ | You have said Pakistan under your presidency will seek "the essence of democracy." What does that mean?

Pervez Musharraf | When I talk of "essence of democracy," I mean a much larger thing. What is democracy? It is empowerment of the people. We have worked to empower people at all levels. For example, women once had no seats in government; now they are 22 percent of our national assembly. They have reserved seats from the local level on up in every level of government. We have sought to empower minorities in much the same way.

Above all, though, empowerment is about economic growth so that we can raise people's standard of living. For the last five years, we have grown at 7 percent per annum. Merrill Lynch projects 6.8 percent growth in the coming year for Pakistan, despite all that is happening in my country.

If the West wants to judge Pakistan, it must do so based on our economic performance, how we provide for the well being of our people and our political stability. Please don't judge us on idealistic, maybe unrealistic, Western perceptions of democracy and human rights. That is where you start going wrong. Political stability and economic growth -- that should be the gauge.

NPQ | What do you plan to do in the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA), along the border with Afghanistan, to quell al-Qaida and Taliban extremists?

Musharraf | I will work with any party or coalition that comes to power as a result of elections and chooses a prime minister. The prime minister runs Pakistan. But when it comes to the FATA, coordination with the new government is required, but (FATA) come directly under the local governor and the president.

For the FATA, we need a multi-pronged approach. We need to find, fight and expel al-Qaida. They are foreigners on our soil. The Taliban, however, are our own people. With them, there is also a political element, which involves issues of integration into the mainstream and a socioeconomic element: to get people out of poverty and thus less vulnerable to the aggressiveness of the extremists. It comes back to the overarching issue: We must sustain economic growth, and for that we need political stability.

Finally, of course, we need to stop any cross-border movement between Afghanistan and Pakistan. No militants should go either way.

Back in 2000, after 50 years of Pakistan's existence, we understood that we had not integrated FATA successfully into Pakistani society. So, we initiated a process then to move in that direction. The unfortunate events after 9/11 changed that. Previously, tribal notables were the main influence over the population. Now it is the Taliban that have come to dominate FATA politically and militarily. They never had any authority or eminence before; now they do. If we were to go for a political settlement now with the Taliban powers that be in FATA, the situation would be even more disturbing.

Instead, we need now to wait and stabilize before we go back on the path of integration because the situation is very different than it was before 9/11.

NPQ | What can be done to end suicide bombing, which is happening more and more often now in Pakistan, including at the rally where Benazir Bhutto was killed?

Musharraf | Suicide bombing has a religious and a socioeconomic aspect. In the short term, we need to get to the people who are indoctrinating these uneducated, deprived, illiterate kids. Most of the suicide bombers in Pakistan, we know, can be traced back to one individual in the South Waziristan agency, Baitullah Mehsud. We need to go to the source. We are going after him.

Who are these youngsters who can be indoctrinated to blow themselves up? They are those who are extremely poor and totally illiterate. Maybe they are mentally less than normal. I've seen these suicide videos where the youngster, wearing a suicide belt, addresses his mother and father and brothers and sisters, saying, "I'm fine, I'm going to heaven, and I'm opening the way for all of you to come later."

The ability to believe this is because of illiteracy. And, if he is miserable in this life and thinks he is going to be some kind of VIP in heaven, he'll do it. So, in the long term we need to address the issues of poverty and illiteracy.