The Times of India
Interview with Pakistan's interior minister
Pakistan’s interior minister, Lt Gen Moin-ud-din Haider (retd), is the musharraf regime’s point man in its battle against extremism. soon after the government banned extremist groups in january, his brother was killed by militants. in an interview with Siddharth Varadarajan in Islamabad, Haider says Pakistan has done enough to address india’s concerns and that the current military stand-off is making his task of dealing with extremists more difficult:
Looking back at all that has happened in the past six months, from 9/11 to the murder of Daniel Pearl, do you now regret allowing extremists like Omar Sheikh and Masood Azhar to slip back into Pakistan so easily after the Kandahar hijacking?
I think so. We should have kept track of them. Subsequently, we did restrict their activities even before September 11 or January 12. Many of their pronouncements and speeches were of no help to Pakistan. But now we have moved against such people. We have made arrests, banned these groups, frozen their accounts, shut down their offices. We have taken many steps for our own reasons but these also address many of your concerns as well. If we are trying to control extremism in Pakistan, this is for the good of Pakistan. I want to say that this effort of ours has been dampened by the unilateral action of India such as its border deployment. This has diverted our attention. Our army and paramilitary forces went back to the border. We were using them to curb extremists.
Soon after Pearl was kidnapped, Pakistan accused India of involvement. What happened?
Well, there were many gaps in the story about why Pearl went to Karachi. His wife and a colleague, Isra Nomani, an Indian-born US national, also came. Now, Nomani told me Pearl had come to do a story on Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. I said Reid is already in US custody, what is left in the story? They said he wanted to see Pir Gilani, who belongs to Lahore, and had come to Karachi to approach Gilani through fixers. I was very surprised because I had never heard of this Gilani before and in any case, it turns out he was accessible to everyone. If he was in Lahore and accessible, why go to Karachi? Then, if you are going to interview or meet someone, you go to an office or home, not dangerous places. So this aspect also puzzled me. If Pearl’s aim was to do the Reid story, why should they rent a house — with a cook and all other expenses — instead of just staying in a hotel like all the other journalists? This was another puzzling factor.
But what is the Indian connection in all this?
Omar Sheikh was in an Indian jail for five years. I have never said there is a link with the Indian government. I know others said things. The fact is some telephone records suggest calls were made to India (by Isra Nomani).
So are you saying Omar Sheikh is an Indian agent?
I cannot figure a reason for Omar — who was in an Indian jail for five years — to have done this. It embarrasses Pakistan, it tarnishes us. Some newspapers are saying (he is an agent) but there is no official view on this. I think the levelling of such accusations will be counterproductive.
Will Pakistan extradite Omar Sheikh to the US?
The US knows that investigations in the Pearl case are still continuing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has joined in. They appreciate our massive effort to apprehend the culprits. If there is evidence, the trial can be here. If we have all the evidence, the US will not mind.
Does the FBI have access to Omar Sheikh? Have they been interrogating him without the presence of Pakistani officers?
They have access but I am not sure if it is without the presence of our officers. The FBI has been helping us mainly in technical matters like tracing e-mails.
You have said the US extradition request for Omar Sheikh cannot be compared with the Indian request for Masood Azhar and 19 others. What is the difference?
First of all, the US has given us the indictment of Omar Sheikh. When we wanted the US to extradite our former naval chief, we had to give them a 70-page legal document. On India’s list of 20, we have said there are many things to sit and talk about. We are afraid the wish list just keeps growing.
Can you give us a status report on the 20? Has there been any attempt to track them down?
I am not able to give such a report at this time. But we have given our opinion that this is not a very big matter. Let us sit and discuss it. We have taken many, many, many measures. But we feel India’s wish list will never end. They want this stalemate to continue. The goalposts keep changing. People here feel enough is enough.
Pakistan’s Extradition Act says requests from foreign governments for fugitives will be referred to a magistrate. Instead, your government has summarily rejected India’s request. Why are you not following the judicial procedures specified in your own law?
Well, that is why we have asked india for evidence. Only then can there be a judicial procedure. Then we have to find the persons and present them before a magistrate.
But Masood Azhar is already in custody.
If you give us evidence, we can proceed. But he was with you for five years and you never proceeded against him. You let him go.
Is there a double standard here? In the case of Mir Aimal Kansi and Ramzi Youssef, Pakistan simply handed them over to the US.
There was a big hue and cry in Pakistan at that time. Now we are following judicial procedures more strictly. People resented that action. this time, we are going to follow the due process of law.
Your war on extremism is in its early days and already there have been sectarian killings. Do you think you will be able to control these elements?
We are taking adequate steps but when you take strong decisions, a backlash will be there. This is a journey that will take us some time.
Do you feel the Pakistani government was too lenient to extremists in the past, that you allowed them to grow in stature and influence?
Over the years, successive governments failed to take action against extremists. But we have taken a stand for a modern state. Anyone who threatens the government — to march to islamabad, to impose some form of islamic state — the process of law will move against them. This country came into being because of islam, but not for a theocratic state. wW will not allow people to challenge the writ of the government. There is a plan. We have been trying to put the genie in the bottle for some time.