A day after his return from the Paris Conference of Donors to Afghanistan on June 14, where he secured over $20 billion worth of economic and military assistance commitments, President Hamid Karzai took upon himself to talk of “hot pursuit of Pakistani Taliban if need be”. If they indulge in terrorist activities on this side of the Durand Line, we reserve the right to chase them on the other side of the Durand Line, said the president, thereby causing discomfort in Islamabad and drawing criticism from many a Pakistanis including several tribal leaders. I mean it and I am very serious about it, Karzai told Imtiaz Gul in an interview at Arg, the presidential palace.
Q: Why did you give such a strong statement on Pakistani Taliban?
A: It is a very very serious matter. When people like Baitullah and Fazlullah vow to kill Afghan and foreign troops on this side of the Durand Line, just think how will the Afghan government and people react.
Q: How would Pakistan and its people react if similar militants vowed to kill Pakistani troops and innocent Pakistanis?
A: I have spoken of our right to defend ourselves against enemies of Afghans, enemies of humanity. People like Baitullah and Fazlullah are enemies of Pashtoons who are burning schools and depriving people of livelihood by destroying their shops.
It must stop and we have to join hands to take on these vagabonds.
Q: What about the response of the Pakistan government?
A: I have all the respect for Prime Minister Gilani, for Asif Zardari. They listen to what I tell them, and I listen to what they tell me. But I don’t hear what I want to hear. Still I don’t hold the civilian government responsible for the situation.
Q: Who are you then holding responsible?
A: It is for you to find out. But let me tell some times I feel I don’t have a counterpart in Islamabad. There is nobody who shares my vision. My vision is to have a peaceful, terror-free environment. If we could handle terrorism, I would like to drive down to Islamabad and take a walk in the Margalla Hills.
Q: Your statement on your right of retaliation came across as quite provocative, how can one hope of smoothening out the relations?
A: It is not provocative. It is a statement of fact. I question myself as to if there is no support to these people, where is the money and the logistics coming from. The money doesn’t fall from heavens. (an indirect and quite veiled reference to elements within the intelligence and army but the president refrained from taking names)
Q: But how do we achieve that, Pakistan has also some limitations?
A: We have our limitations, and we know Pakistan has its own limitations but we can still try to help Pakistan if they ask for it.
Q: If both Pakistan and Afghanistan are incapacitated by their limitations, are you then suggesting that Pakistan invited NATO and ISAF forces into its territory to fix the problem?
A: I mean if we join hands we can tackle the problem. There is no option but to get together and fight the menace. I am pained and shocked when these criminals are torching schools, and killing innocent elderly women on charges of espionage for America. This is a ludicrous allegation against elderly women and that too in areas like Waziristan where they hardly step out of homes and have no contact with outsiders at all. This means the likes of Baitullah have lost regard and consideration even for the local traditions. (reference to the execution of three women in Waziristan and Mohmand, who Taliban claimed were working as US spies).
Q: Why are you opposed to the peace negotiations in Waziristan and other parts of FATA?
A: How can you cut deals with people who publicly vow death to innocent Afghans and Pakistanis. How can you forgive these people who are opposed to girls’ education, who are depriving them of a better future. We must permanently eliminate these criminal minds which brain wash young minds and send them into death with false promises.
Q: What do you think of the Awami National Party’s (ANP) approach in FATA, like the deal in Swat?
A: I trust the ANP, it is a very responsible party and am sure will never work against the interests of Pashtoons. I am with them if they are talking to the militants
Q: But they are also talking to people like Baitullah Mehsud?
A: I am sure if they are talking to Baitullah, they would not compromise the interests of Pashtoons on both sides of the border. My concern, however, remains as to if 30 journalists can visit Baitullah Mehsud and he holds a press conference at a government school in Waziristan (May 24 visit of Pakistan and foreign journalists), why cant the government agencies locate him. We must identify and expose forces which are supporting these obscurantist mindless people. I wonder why are forces of violence and terror being supported.
Q: But don’t you think Pakistan government itself is faced with a grave challenge?
A: Well if Pakistan is serious about it, they shall have to lean really hard on these terrorists. You cannot on the one hand condemn them and on the other pay compensation to affected people through these militants. This thing must stop. It cannot go on forever. We need results. The sanctuaries of terror must be taken out wherever they are.
Q: What about the intelligence sharing mechanism?
A: I don’t think this mechanism is effective. It hasn’t worked out well and the activities of the militants on the other side of the Durand Line prove this. Lack of mutual trust and consensus on the question as to what is our common interest are two big factors obstructing good results.
Q: What about the prospects of talks with people like Hekmetyar and Taliban? He is also a wanted person.
A: Anybody who wants to become part of the system, is ready to renounce violence and agrees to work for the people of Afghanistan, is welcome. We will welcome those who abandon the path of violence. We will however never tolerate those who are killing people and obstructing our progress and prosperity. I also wouldn’t mind if Pakistani government talks to Taliban who are ignorant or who are afraid of reprisals (if they abandoned Taliban). Such people must be taken on board and protected. But it is about time Pakistani authorities got the message of the international community. And that is no mercy or deal for killers and enemies of humanity. No space and no compensation for them. It is unfortunate that instead of talking of great economic cooperation with a friendly neighbouring country, a head of state has to talk of criminals, of people who are a threat to Pashtoons, to women and to innocent human beings. I pray to God to destroy them. They don’t deserve any sympathy at all.