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How can the Taliban take over?'

'We have a 700,000 army.
How can the Taliban take over?'

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
May 06, 2009 12:10 IST
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A feisty Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari says there is no likelihood of his being deposed in a military coup, but if it does happen it will be because the United States along with other democratic countries has had a hand in it.

In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday, Zardari said, "I don't think there is any such chance at the moment." He is in Washington along with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at United States President Barack Obama's invitation for a tripartite summit at the White House.

But he asserted that "whenever we've had a coup d'etat, whenever we've had a dictator, he's always been supported by you -- as in the United States."

Zardari said when General Pervez Musharraf took over by overthrowing then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup on October 12, 1999, the US had supported the removal of a democratically elected leader.

"I feel at the moment the world does not have the appetite to support another coup d'etat in Pakistan," he said.

When Blitzer asked if "what I hear you say is, if there were a coup in Pakistan, you would blame the US," Zardari replied, "I would blame all the democratic forces in the world and we always have."

"And then we've worked with them in order to get our country back," he said, adding: "We fought three dictators already -- the People's Party (the party founded by his late father-in-law Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) has a history of fighting three dictators and winning over them."

But he proclaimed, "I am not here to point fingers at anybody. I am here to get more support for democracy. Get more support for the war effort and show them my record and try and tell them, 'Listen, one year of democracy, nearly seven-and-a-half months of my presidency, (and) we've done more than your dictator did before."

The Pakistan president said the military was firmly under his control and he had no doubt that if he gives an order to the army, that order would be obeyed.

On international concern over the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in the wake of the advancing Taliban forces, Zardari said these weapons were safe.

"Definitely safe. First of all, they are in safe hands," and noted that the "command and control system is under the president of Pakistan."

When Blitzer persisted and said the world was worried if the Taliban or some other extremist group were to seize power in Pakistan, the Pakistani leader said, "It doesn't work like that. They can't take over. We have a 700,000 army. How can they take over?"

Zardari denied that there were elements within the army who are sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda saying, "I deny that. There aren't any sympathisers for them."

But he acknowledged, "There is a mindset in the lower cadre maybe who feel akin to the same religion, God, etc etc. But nothing that should concern anybody as far as nuclear arsenal or other instruments of such sort."

Asked if he would share information on where Pakistan's nuclear weapons are located with the US, Zardari said this was unlikely and noted that Washington has not asked him directly for such information.

He pointed out that "every official of any knowledge in your administration has given the same statement that they have confidence in the fact that they (Pakistan's nuclear arsenal) are safe."

On President Obama's contention that Pakistan's obsession with India as its mortal threat has been misguided, Zardari said, "Democracies have never gone to war. No Pakistan democratic government has gone to war with India. We've always wanted peace, we still want peace with India. We want a commercial relationship with them."

"I am looking at the markets of India for the industrialists of Pakistan and hoping to do the same," he added. "I am waiting for the elections to be over so that all this rhetoric is over and I can start a fresh dialogue with the Indian government."

Asked if he had confidence in President Obama, Zardari said, "I have confidence in the American system, I have confidence in democracy in America, and definitely I have hope in Obama."

Having American boots on the ground inside Pakistan to fight the Taliban and other extremist elements he felt would be counterproductive. "I don't think the US troops want to come to Pakistan," he said, but was "open to the fact that we need more equipment, we need more intelligence equipment, we need support intelligence-wise etc, but not personnel."

"I don't think personnel are necessary. They'll be counterproductive," he said.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC