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Terror is our enemy, not India: ISI chief

Published Jan 07, 2009 12:00am

THE ISI chief, Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, was willing to travel to New Delhi after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani accepted a request by his Indian counterpart following the attacks in Mumbai on Nov 26, the general himself told the Der Spiegel in an interview carried by the German magazine in its latest issue.

But the general, without revealing the reasons for not doing so, remarked: “Many people here are simply not ready.”

The head of the Inter-Services Intelligence brushed aside talk of a war between Pakistan and India. “There will not be a war,” he said confidently. “We are distancing ourselves from conflict with India, both now and in general.”

He said Pakistan had braced itself for a “military reaction” after the Mumbai tragedy. “At first we thought there would be a military reaction. The Indians, after the attacks, were deeply offended and furious, but they are also clever,” Lt-Gen Pasha said.

The general, in an attempt to allay misgivings in the West about Pakistan, emphasised: “We may be crazy in Pakistan, but not completely out of our minds. We know full well that terror is our enemy, not India.”

Gen Pasha told the magazine many questions were swirling in his mind about the Mumbai aftermath. So far, he said, the Indians had failed to prove that Pakistani groups sponsored by the ISI were behind the attacks.

“They have given us nothing, no numbers, no connections, no names. This is regrettable.” According to the interviewer, the ISI chief switched back and forth between English and his “surprisingly accent-free German”.

He lived in Germany for a few years in the 1980s, taking part in officer training programmes.

In reply to a question about the longevity of the present government, Lt-Gen Pasha said the transition to civilian rule must succeed.

“It is completely clear to the army chief and me that this government must succeed. Otherwise we will have a lot of problems in this country,” he said in a solemn tone.

“The result would be problems in the West and the East, political destabilisation and trouble with America,” he warned. “Anyone who does not support this democratic government today simply does not understand the current situation.”

And then, giving an innocuous yet significant information, he adds: “I report regularly to the president and take orders from him.”

Gen Pasha told the magazine he wanted to re-establish the ISI’s credibility.

The interviewer was keen to know how much control does Gen Pasha have over the organisation.

The ISI head replied in a firm tone: “Many may think in a different direction, and everyone is allowed to think differently, but no one can dare disobey a command or even do something that was not ordered.”

Lt-Gen Pasha rubbished conjectures about a meeting Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief, had with US military officials on board the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, in August. The ISI chief had accompanied the COAS to the meeting. The western media were rife with speculations that the two sides had reached a tacit understanding that Pakistan would allow the US military to carry out drone attacks in the tribal area.

The general denied that this was the case. “We never discussed that, nor did we agree to it,” he explained, shaking his head. “But to be honest, what can we do against the drone attacks? Should we fight the Americans or attack an Afghan post because that’s where the drones are coming from? Can we win this? Does it benefit Pakistan?”

Gen Pasha also explained to the magazine why he was unwilling to crack down on the Taliban leadership. “Shouldn’t they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation.

“Isn’t that freedom of opinion?” he asked in a rhetorical tone.

He defended Pakistan’s cooperation with the West in the “war on terror”, asserting that “by working together, everyone will be able to defeat terror”. “But it will not”, he hastened to add, happen punctually and according to plan, as is customary in Germany.”