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Mansoor Ijaz: The Pakistan perspective

Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin, is a New York financier. As a private citizen, he negotiated Sudan's counter-terrorism offer to the United States in 1997. Last year, he proposed the framework for a ceasefire in Kashmir with the Indian Government. An MIT-trained nuclear physicist, Ijaz consults regularly with the U.S. government in the areas of nonproliferation, counterterrorism and the Islamic world. He joined the CNN.com chat room from New York.

Mansoor Ijaz
Mansoor Ijaz  

CNN: Welcome to CNN.com Mansoor Ijaz. Thank you for joining us today.

MANSOOR IJAZ: Thank you very much for letting me address a wonderful audience. I'm happy to address people from all over the world, and I hope I'll give you some relevant and important insights.

CNN: Could you describe the US-Pakistan relationship prior to September 11 and how we were so quickly able to gain their support for the president's coalition against terrorism?

IJAZ: I think to put that in the right context, you have to go back to the Cold War era, during which Pakistan was our principle ally. From 1980 to 1990, Pakistan was the front line state in our war against communism, and that war was fought once before in Afghanistan. In 1990, after the war was over and communism collapsed, the United States left Pakistan and Afghanistan abruptly, and then made some very serious policy mistakes.

They sanctioned Pakistan for a nuclear program that the United States helped them to create. They sanctioned them militarily, economically, and isolated them diplomatically. This is what we did to our ally. Afghanistan turned into a basket case. Civil war from 1990-1995, '97 in Afghanistan, decimated their economy and their people.

Now, the most important thing to understand about the events of 9-11, is that even with the U.S. having sanctioned Pakistan for almost a decade, from 1990 to 2000 -- for its nuclear ambitions, its nuclear bombs, for its undemocratic governments -- even then, Pakistan turned on a dime, and the minute the U.S. asked for help, the ally was there again.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What does India have to gain by putting the pressure on Pakistan during this sensitive time?

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IJAZ: Well, it is actually insane that India has tried to ratchet the pressure up during this period. But to be fair to the Indian government, they have a problem. They are a democracy, where Pakistan is not. The democratic forces that rule India today are saying to the world community, and particularly the United States, that if you are going to stamp out terrorism in Afghanistan, then you darn well better stamp it out in Pakistan and the Pakistan-held side of Kashmir. As we all know, Kashmir is a serious problem, and there is a serious dispute about whether it should be independent, belong to Pakistan because it's a Muslim majority state, or remain with India, because India owns the title to the land.

Now, the reason that India is ratcheting up the pressure right now is because of the terrorist attack that took place in Srinagar. The attack took place a few days after the September 11 attacks in the U.S. and destroyed a significant portion of the parliament building. Forty were killed and hundreds were injured. That is what caused the Indians to believe that Pakistan would, while it had the U.S. as its ally fighting in Afghanistan, foster and even encourage, a terrorist attack on Indian soil.

You must understand that that is not true. In fact, these terrorist organizations operating in Kashmir have become uncontrollable by anybody. I know this because I have dealt with some of these people as recently as January of this year. So the Indian government's pressure was created by a terrorist attack, which Pakistan probably has no control over or say in, and it's important for Pakistan to do what it can to moderate the negative terrorist influences operating in Kashmir right now, whatever they can do.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why do we try to be peaceable with Pakistan and India if they're shouting in the streets: death to America?

IJAZ: We have to understand that these protests are born from the anger that America left Pakistan to deal with: 3 million Afghan refugees, a virulent drug trade which the CIA started and used to finance the war in Afghanistan, and an arms trade that proliferated everything from Russian kalishnikovs to American-made Stinger missiles. What do you expect from people who had no education to begin with, and then were handed guns to roam the streets? We cannot, as Americans, allow ourselves to think we are not in any way responsible for the problems in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and other places where terrorist roots have now branched out.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How does Pakistan ensure safe transition of nuclear weapons when power is seized (as in 1998) in their country? How can we be assured that these weapons won't fall into the hands of a fanatic like bin Laden?

IJAZ: That's a very good question. The answer to that is the following. Until 1998, the control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal always rested in the army, it never rested with the politicians. In many cases, the politicians didn't even know how far developed the nuclear program was. Now, when we look at the post-1998 scenario, after the nuclear test took place, the command and control structure not only was held inside the army, but concentrated in the hands of the army chief.

It's vitally important to know that Pakistan's army is one of the most professionally trained in the world. All objective analysts agree. The largest peace-keeping contingency has historically always been Pakistani troops. So, the concern that is raised (a very valid concern) only becomes a problem if the United States does not remain firmly engaged with General Musharraf, who is a secular, moderate, rational mind. The people under him are by and large are secular, moderate, rational minds. The people below them are the problem. That is why the U.S. must re-engage on every front, economically, militarily, and diplomatically, to prevent the radicalization of Pakistan's military infrastructure.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Pakistan has lot of Taliban supporters in it's army. Aren't they going to be threat to Musharraf?

Pakistan President Musharraf
Pakistan President Musharraf  

IJAZ: Again, a very intelligent question. The answer is that they really could be a threat. If the U.S. bombing campaign results in much larger losses of civilian life in Afghanistan without a tangible result in favor of the war on terrorism -- that is, either bin Laden is killed, or Zawahiri is killed, or Mullah Omar is killed -- without a tangible result of that type, the agitation in Pakistan's streets would rise to unmanageable levels. Today it's manageable. Tomorrow it may not be.

The connection between the street rioting and the army is important, because you correctly point out that the bulk of the army's enlisted personnel have very strong sympathies, not just with the Taliban, but with their Islamic roots. They're Muslims first, not Pakistani soldiers first. So if the tensions in the streets rise to a level because the bombing campaign is killing more and more innocent people, Musharraf may be forced to ask the army, which traditionally worries about national security, not domestic security and law and order, to come out into the streets to quell the riots. The day that order has to be given is the day we lose Pakistan as our ally.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is it possible that bin Laden has taken refuge in Pakistan?

IJAZ: I think it's unlikely, because Pakistani intelligence is now under the control of one of General Musharraf's most trusted aides. If this had been a month ago, one might believe he would be given refuge somewhere in Pakistan, but now the change in the ISI's leadership (Pakistani equivalent of the CIA), there's virtually no chance that bin Laden could take refuge in Pakistan, nor the Pakistan side of Kashmire, which is where some think he might go.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What is the government of Pakistan's policy towards terrorism in Kashmir? Do they consider them terrorists or freedom fighters?

IJAZ: The official version is that they're freedom fighters. But I can tell you there are serious people both in the Pakistani army and the government that believe strongly that the entire freedom movement in Kashmir was hijacked, and I use that word clearly and strongly, hijacked by external Arabic influences. So, the answer to your question is simple. Officially, they don't believe it's terrorism, but unofficially, they believe there are elements of that movement that are uncontrollable.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments for us today?

IJAZ: I want to say that the audience had important and intelligent questions, and I want to applaud CNN for this chat room. Second, I believe it's important as we go forward, particularly for the American people, to understand the root causes of what we're seeing today. While we must manage the end result, there's going to come a time in the near future when we're going to have to make some serious decisions about what policies our government should pursue to insure that these acts never again hurt American people, or people anywhere else. So I hope that in these types of online chatrooms, or other places people get information, that you'll research and understand these people and what their lives are about. I've said this for the last seven years that I've been writing op-ed pieces, is that the only way we can preserve our way of life is to raise up the disaffected people around us. That is the spirit of the American people. WE have to make sure it remains the spirit of the American government.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Mansoor Ijaz.

IJAZ: Thank you very much.

Mr. Ijaz joined CNN.com via telephone from New York. CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Wednesday, October 17, 2001.



 
 
 
 


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