Amb. Haqqani: No Imminent Danger of Taliban Taking Islamabad

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I’m Wolf Blitzer. You’re in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But more on the breaking news coming in from Pakistan right now, Taliban fighters gaining ground dangerously close to the capital, Islamabad, the insurgents flexing their muscles more than seven years after U.S.-led forces ousted them from power in neighboring Afghanistan. ]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.

Mr. Ambassador welcome back.

HAQQANI: A pleasure to be here.

BLITZER: I wish it was under different circumstances. I don’t remember a time hearing the secretary of state of the United States offer this dire assessment.

What’s going on in your country right now?

HAQQANI: Well, I don’t think that the dire assessment should be seen as an assessment. I think it’s the sentiment more than an assessment. There are factual errors in the way this story has been revealed just now.

For example, yes, Swat is 60 miles from the capital, but it’s not 60 miles on the highway. It’s 60 miles as the crow flies. So there are mountains that have to be taken over. It’s not like Islamabad…

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But it sounds like the Taliban is gaining and gaining strength right now.

HAQQANI: I don’t think that is a correct assessment, Wolf. The fact of the matter is that Swat is an isolated valley surrounded by mountains. Yes, the Taliban have made an advance there in the sense that the Pakistani government cut a deal with a movement that supports the Taliban, but is not the Taliban itself. The idea was that the Taliban would lay down their arms as a result. It’s sometimes important to have dialogue to prove the point that the government is moving…

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There’s no sign they have laid down their arms.

HAQQANI: And if they haven’t then the government has the means. Pakistan also has one of the largest armies in the world. The army can and will move, as it has done in many other parts of the country.

BLITZER: Because we checked. You have a standing army of at least a half a million troops, and a reserve of another half a million. You have a million-man army right now that could easily go into Swat and end this.

HAQQANI: And the important thing is, what would be the collateral damage? After all, it’s much easier talking about what’s happening in the Swat Valley sitting in Washington, D.C., than it is sitting in Pakistan. These are Pakistani citizens we are talking about. We have to move—in all insurgencies, you have to move very methodically.

BLITZER: She says this is an existential threat to the government of Pakistan right now. If they come into Islamabad, who knows what could happen?

HAQQANI: Wolf, first of all, what she’s saying is essentially that the threat of terrorism is in existential threat to Pakistan, and that is something that the government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan generally agree with. The only question is, is just the recent development in Swat an existential threat to the government of Pakistan? And my answer to that is that is not.

BLITZER: Here is the criticism that we keep hearing, here in Washington. And you’re right, it’s easy to criticize…

HAQQANI: And we’ve been hearing it for seven years, by the way.

BLITZER: … sitting in Washington, as opposed to Islamabad. You have other issues. But the criticism is the U.S. government has provided your government, Pakistan, with about $11 billion over these years since 9/11. Most of that money, almost all of that money, has been used to ease your concerns about India, it hasn’t been used to go after the Taliban and al Qaeda.

HAQQANI: Wolf, any nation determines its own threat perceptions. Are there people in Pakistan who still do not consider the Taliban a threat? Definitely.

But an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis recognizes the Taliban as a threat. The government recognizes them as a threat. The Pakistani military and Pakistan intelligence services recognize them as a threat.

BLITZER: So, why make deals with them, even indirectly?

HAQQANI: I think, if you go back, for example, in Iraq, how was peace restored to Fallujah?

There were arrangements – local arrangements with various tribes and various groups – with various groups that were loosely affiliated with al Qaeda.

The Pakistani government is pursuing this strategy. And I am—we are open to criticism of that strategy. But to think that that strategy somehow represents an abdication of our responsibility towards our people and towards the security of our country and the region is incorrect.

BLITZER: You heard Jill Dougherty outline what the secretary of state and U.S. officials fear is that worst-case scenario—the Taliban taking over Pakistan, as they did years ago, of Afghanistan. The big difference, though, is that there’s a nuclear arsenal, potentially, they could get their hands on.

HAQQANI: Two important things. Afghanistan, at that time, was in the middle of a civil war. It did not have a central government. If you remember, various warlords controlled various parts of Afghanistan and the Taliban took advantage thereof.

In the case of Pakistan, Pakistan has a legitimate elected government. Pakistan has a military and a police force.

Yes, we have capacity issues. Our military needs equipment and training to be able to do—pursue counterinsurgency operations. But the United States and Pakistan are partners. And in that partnership, I think, together, we can deal with the Taliban.

BLITZER: Are the U.S. drone attacks – these pilotless planes – these attacks against Taliban and al Qaeda targets on Pakistani sovereign soil, are they helping or hurting what’s going on?

HAQQANI: I think that it’s not one of those simple helping or hurting questions – answers. The fact of the matter is that these attacks have eliminated many bad people, including Talabani leader – Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. On the other hand, Pakistanis would be far more comfortable if these attacks were undertaken in cooperation with the government of Pakistan, rather than unilaterally.

BLITZER: Well, would you like the United States and NATO, perhaps, to do in Pakistan what they’re doing in Afghanistan—in other words, come in and help your military eradicate this Taliban/al Qaeda insurgency?

HAQQANI: Our military is quite capable of dealing with the insurgency and the (INAUDIBLE)…

BLITZER: But they’re not doing it yet.

HAQQANI: Well, I think we are not going to do it—well, first of all, we are not going to discuss military strategy in great detail on television, Wolf.

But at the same time, let me just say, we are not going to do anything on demand. This is not something that is going to be done by the pressing of a button anywhere in the world.

Pakistan will fight terrorism. We intend to fight terrorism. We will fight al Qaeda and the Taliban. As far as the question of aid and assistance is concerned, Pakistan was given assistance, as well as reimbursement for expenses undertaken in the war against terror since 9/11. And Pakistan has also borne the brunt of the fighting. More Pakistanis have lost their lives fighting terrorism than any other single nation.

BLITZER: It looks like it’s do or die. It’s a critical moment right now.

HAQQANI: Wolf, you and I are both going to be here in a few months and we will probably be on this show again. We will probably be able to look at the clips of this discussion. And hopefully, you will play this clip in which I’m saying it’s not do or die.

Yes, we have a challenge. But no, we do not have a situation in which the government or the country of Pakistan is about to fall to the Taliban.

BLITZER: As a friend—as a friend of Pakistan, no one would like to see that happen more than me.

HAQQANI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for coming in and good luck.

HAQQANI: Thank you.

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