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The Rediff Interview/Friday Times editor Najam Sethi

February 16, 2004

Najam Sethi, editor of Friday Times, the respected Pakistani weekly, is in New Delhi on a personal visit. 

Sethi, who landed in prison in Pakistan after his last visit to India for talking about peace with the 'enemy,' is convinced that the India-Pakistan dialogue is headed in a positive direction and can yield good results, provided it is conducted in the right spirit.

Sethi, who spoke to rediff.com Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh in an exclusive interview at the India International Centre, on Sunday, lauded Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf for their "bold initiative" to bring peace to the subcontinent.

What was the reaction in Pakistan when Prime Minister Vajpayee extended a hand of friendship to Islamabad at a public meeting in Srinagar last in April?

Frankly, his announcement of a peace initiative came as a bolt from the blue to everyone in Pakistan. We had not expected this. But once he made the offer, we realised that something was going on behind the scenes, which was not visible to us.

The peace initiative of Vajpayee and Musharraf is significant. There can be no doubt about it. Whether it will stay on the rails or get derailed, I cannot say at this moment. But as of now it is headed in the right direction.

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Do you see any role of the United States in this initative?

The US role is obvious to any keen observer of Indo-Pak relations. America has told Pakistan the losses it will incur if it does not move in this direction, and has also told India what gains it can expect if the peace initiative takes concrete shape.

The United States has a very big role in bringing the two nations to the negotiating table.

How do you look at the Dr A Q Khan issue, the charge that he sold nuclear knowhow to other countries?

This is a very serious issue for Pakistan. Though we would like to put a lid on it, it will not happen. Right now the Americans and the international community need Pakistan and General Musharraf because of the war on terror. The Americans need Pakistani assistance in Afganistan. Therefore, they are not going to create too many waves. But Pakistan will remain under observation by the international community for sometime to come.

Has the disclosure about Dr Khan come as a shock to the Pakistani people?

It has. Pakistan had always looked upon him with respect and revered Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan because of the massive propaganda effort made by him and the Pakistani administration to build him up for his role in building the bomb. So when it was revealed that he was a culprit of some sort, it came as a shock. People knew he had acquired wealth and some of it was not easily explainable. There were whispers that maybe he had made money when buying material for Pakistan's nuclear programme. But nobody thought he might be selling the knowhow to other countries. People say he has huge houses all over Pakistan. Now we are told by the US that he has Swiss accounts and money in Dubai banks as well.

How much is he worth?

That is very difficult to say. Nobody has assessed his wealth. The Pakistani media have written about the number of houses he has in Islamabad and other places. He is a rich man, no doubt.

How secure is General Musharraf?

General Musharraf is as secure as any army chief can be. There is no threat to him from the Pakistani public in terms of a mass movement against him. There is no threat to him from the Pakistani army because most of the senior officers are his handpicked men. He has shunted out those who did not agree with him.

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Will this initiative have a different fate?
But there is clearly a threat to him. There have already been two attempts to assassinate him.

The threat to him comes from that radical section of jihad in Islam which is allied to Al Qaeda because of his relationship with the Americans. Now he is talking of peace with India. A lot of vested interests are very upset. There is a threat to him from such elements. They are not weak, but they are not strong either. They are strong in the sense that you saw how close they came to eliminating him. Which means they must have had prior knowledge of his movements. This means there must be low-level operatives who are part of the Pakistani state machinery but are sympathetic to such elements.

This is a small, but highly motivated group. But they are not as big as radical Islamic groups in Egypt or Algeria. They are a handful of people who are out to get him. Within six months the Pakistani intelligence agencies along with the American intelligence agencies will get to the root of it.

Are the Americans safeguarding Pakistani nuclear installations to ensure that nuclear arms do not land in the hands of terror groups?

Let me clarify that the Americans are not safeguarding Pakistani nuclear installations. There is no question of letting the Americans do that job for us.

There is absolutely no chance of any nuclear weapon falling into wrong hands. Nobody should have such inhibitions because, first of all, there are no assembled nuclear weapons. Neither India nor Pakistan has bombs in assembled mode. Various elements of the bombs are separated and there is no way any terror group can assemble a bomb in Pakistan within 24 hours. Pakistani installations are under strict vigil under a new command and control system which Musharraf set up in 2000. That is why we know what Dr A Q Khan was doing.

For 10 years the USA did not allow Pakistan to buy equipmment that would ensure the safety of Pakistani nuclear weapons. They have now agreed to send us this equipment.

George Bush has labelled Dr Khan an international terrorist.

Khan may have violated an international norm, but he has not committed an act of terror. We in any case do not agree with the definition of terror as given by President Bush.

Do you foresee someone else taking over from Musharraf and installing himself as the ruler of Pakistan, as has happened in the past?

The only way Musharraf can be replaced is if, God forbid, he is elminated physically. As to what would happen then, there are various options. In that situation the top army commanders would hold a meeting and elect their chief. But that would be unconstitutional because we have a parliament. Then they would have to suspend parliament. Thereby Pakistan would go back to square one. Or they could say that parliament should elect the new president who in turn would appoint a new army chief. The new army chief would be one who would support the polices and programmes of Musharraf.

Image: Uday Kuckian


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