Terrorists relocating to cities: Musharraf

August 17, 2004

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 16: President General Pervez Musharraf has said that successful operations have sent the foreign masterminds of terrorism in the country on the run, and urged the people to stand up against elements infusing extremism in society.

"We are on the winning side...we have major successes (against terrorists)," he said while speaking in the PTV programme 'Aaap key Robaro'. President Musharraf said the environment was changing as the government was confronting terrorism and extremism head-on.

"We are attacking the masterminds to dry up the source of terrorism and they are on the run," he said. The president said authentic information had revealed that these terrorist masterminds were relocating from the mountainous and tribal regions in the north to cities and even to other countries.

He said these elements had come to Afghanistan after 9/11 and the military operations forced them to hide in the mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghan border and in cities.

The capture of 500 to 600 Al Qaeda operatives, including top Al Qaeda leaders Khalid Omer Sheikh and Abu Zubaida, from different cities forced them to take refuge mostly in the South Waziristan region.

However, the president said, military operations in Wana, Shakai, Santoi and Mantoi villages in South Waziristan had forced these terrorists to move away to other cities and countries.

He said the masterminds were foreigners who used local extremists for planning and executing terrorist activities in the country. The president said the government was using both political and military means to eliminate terrorists from the South Waziristan region.

He rejected the allegations that innocent people were being killed in operations in South Waziristan. He said there might be some collateral damage, which was highly regrettable, but all operations precisely targeted the terrorists.

Replying to a question, the president said the government was confronting obscurantists elements who were out to push the country away from the vision of Quaid-i-Azam and Allama Iqbal who wished to see Pakistan as a progressive, dynamic and moderate Islamic country.

The president said the vast majority of Pakistanis were moderate but religious, and were fulfilling all their obligations. But, he added, there were others on the fringe - ultra-modern and westernized people and the fundamentalist of whom a fringe were extremists.

He said it was against these fringe elements the silent majority of moderate people needed to rise. President Musharraf asked people to rise without fear to eradicate the menace of terrorism and extremism from society.

He brushed aside allegations that Pakistan was acting against terrorism and extremism under any pressure. "It is disgraceful to think that someone is dictating us.. please don't humiliate yourself...don't try to act as if we are nothing."

He said Pakistan was fighting terrorism in its own interest and not at the behest of any other country. President Musharraf said as a long-term solution to the problem of terrorism he had proposed the vision of enlightened moderation under which the international community must resolve the political problems and address the issue of poverty which were pushing the people towards extremism.

Replying to a question relating to a statement by the interior minister about the role of political parties, the president said he did not believe that any political party was involved in terrorism.

PEACE PROCESS: On the ongoing peace dialogue between Pakistan and India, he said Islamabad was pursing the process with all sincerity. He said the feelers coming from India indicated that they also wanted to address the issues sincerely.

The president said the dialogue between the two countries was taking place in a changed environment. There was an increased interest of the international community as both Pakistan and India were nuclear states and Kashmir was being seen as a nuclear flashpoint in the region.

Besides, he said the conventional and un-conventional military balance and the public pressure from both sides to live in peace with each other had also added to the changed environment.

The president said he was for the opening of the Khokhrapar-Monabao route and it was being discussed between the two sides. However, he said, it was part of the confidence-building measures (CBMs) and needed to go hand in hand with the composite dialogue process of which Kashmir was the core issue.

He said there had to be a move forward on Kashmir, otherwise CBMs would not move with pace. "The (dialogue and CBMs) would move in harmony," he added. Responding to a question, the president said corruption at the lower level was a social problem that every country had and needed to be addressed.

He described the National Finance Commission Award as important but regretted that provinces had failed to reach a consensus on it. He said that although the centre was willing to give up to 47 per cent of its share, the provinces did not agree.

When asked if there was any international pressure on him with regard to terrorism, the president said: "I am not the kind of person who gets any dictation and I have the courage to stand up to any person in the world...I do not have any ego problem and nobody dictates me." "We will keep our national interests supreme," he said.

WATER RESERVOIRS: In reply to a question about the construction of new water reservoirs, he said: "Yes, we will make a major dam." He said the matter needed to be taken up urgently in the National Assembly for a thorough debate.

He said the matter had to be decided by the end of this year and "we have to reach a consensus. "It is a matter of life for Pakistan, we can defer it but it will have to be done," he said. The country, he said, relied on agriculture economy which depended on a regular water supply.

He said Pakistan had to have at least four major dams, at Skardu, Bhasha, Kalabagh and Akhori, by the year 2050. "We have to build these ... and we have to take the decisions."

He said the Kachchi canal would meet the needs of drinking water as well, while the RBOD (Right Bank Outfall Drain) would take away the brackish water from Manchhar lake into the sea and replace it with fresh water.

MILITARY INTERVENTIONS: In reply to a question about military interventions in the government, President Musharraf said the National Security Council had been set up to prevent martial law. He said the NSC would maintain necessary checks and balances.

He said the NSC was not a body above the parliament and if it remained in place he was "200 per cent sure there would be no martial law". He said martial laws could be imposed only when democracy was not consolidated and was not at the grassroots level.

During the previous military governments, he said, there were blunders but lots of good things happened as well. He also rejected a perception that military personnel were being accommodated on civilian posts on a large scale and said that even a 10 per cent quota for them in the government services was not fully utilized.

The president, however, said merit was the sole criterion for appointment on government posts whether it was civilian or army personnel. When asked about the issue of his uniform, the president said: "Constitution of the country would be adhered to...there will be no amendment, no modification, I would like to hear the voice of the people."

Answering a question, he said Pakistan was not banking on nuclear capability alone and would maintain its conventional and un-conventional balance for deterrence. To a question about the law against honour killings, President Musharraf said it needed to be debated in the National Assembly, adding there could be no law in the country repugnant to the teachings of Quran and Sunnah.

PRESS FREEDOM: To a question about the freedom of the press, President Musharraf said: "Freedom of media is the core issue of democracy and we have done very well on this core issue."

He said with more freedom, there would be more maturity. He said he had seen greater maturity emerging in the national media over the past few years. The president said that criticism of policies was welcome, and not an issue if done with objectivity and done with conviction.

He, however, expressed displeasure over criticism motivated by petty party, personal, monetary or other ulterior motives. To a question about the benefit of the macro-economic gains to the common man, President Musharraf said the overall flow of money in the country had risen, both in the rural and urban areas of the country.

He said the country had generated around 1.5 million new jobs and added that although it was less than the demand, work was under way to initiate new projects to create more job opportunities. He said the interest rates for the agriculture sector had been slashed from 14 per cent to 8 per cent, while revolving credit had been launched for farmers. -APP