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In US, Zardari lashes out at American policies

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
May 11, 2009 11:31 IST
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Pakistani's President Asif Ali Zardari, asked on NBC's 'Meet the Press' program where Osama bin Laden was, told the interviewer, "You'll have been there for eight years. (So) You tell me.You lost him in Tora Bora, I didn't, I was in prison."
A feisty Zardari claimed, "In fact, my wife (the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto) warned America about Osama bin Laden in 1989. She rang senior Bush (America's 41st President George Herbert Walker Bush) and asked of him, 'Are you destabilizing my government?' because he (apparently referring to bin Laden) paid the then opposition $10 million to overthrow the first woman elected in an Islamic country."
"So, we knew that he was your operator," he added.
Asked if Pakistan was actively looking for bin Laden, Zardari replied, "The world is looking for him and we are part of the world look-out brigade."
The Pakistani President maintained that he believes bin Laden is dead. "I have a strong feeling and I have reason to believe that because I've asked my counterparts in the American intelligence agencies and they have not heard of him since seven years."
But he did not elaborate or clarify by what he meant by saying 'I've asked my counterparts in the American intelligence agencies,' which seemed to imply that he was part of the Pakistani intelligence.
Zardari also vehemently denied some reports that had said that Pakistan was adding more weapons to its nuclear weapons arsenal, and laughed it off saying, "We are not adding to stockpiles as such. Why do we need more?
He also said it was a sovereignty issue, when asked why Pakistan does not share information with the US where Pakistan's weapons are dispersed so that there could be a joint strategy to ensure their safety and security.
"Why don't you do the same with other countries yourself," he demanded of the interviewer. "It's a sovereignty issue and we have a right to our sovereignty. It's a sovereign country."
Zardari also ridiculed the more than $10 billion the US had provided Pakistan in the last eight years, which the US Congress and many Administration officials have argued has not produced the desired results but only gone to beef up the Pakistani army that has used it for itself and to arm itself for a possible conflict with India and not been used for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
"Altogether this aid package is not even one-tenth of what you gave AIG(American Insurance Group as part of the bailout package)," he quipped. "So, let's face it. We need, in fact, much more help. We brought democracy back. It's a young democracy. Accept it. It was you (the US) who was aiding the dictators of the past."
Zardari also took a hefty swipe at the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Howard Berman, who had said after meeting with Zardari on May 5, and had been quoted as saying that "He (Zardari) didn't present a coherent strategy for the defeat of this insurgency. I had a sense of what they are doing today. I did not have a sense of what they plan to do tomorrow."
"Well, he (Berman) didn't even ask me..So, it's OK," Zardari said. "But I'll tell you what I plan to do. We've been lobbying in America and my wife was lobbying and we were of the view, and always have been of the view that democracy is the answer to the problem."
He said, "Now we've got democracy, and democracy needs help and needs a little more help than we've been getting in the past"
Zardari argued that "what the American public and the people at large don't understand is that for 10 years you've given $10 billion to a dictator, but you've given them for the war in these mountains."
"So, it's actually reimbursement for the money spent. After all, a 125,000 troops moving in logistically, do cost. So, you've been paying back the Government of Pakistan for the expenses occurred as such."
Zardari defended democracy as a viable strategy for taking on the Taliban. "Sure it is," he asserted. "The stronger my institutions are, the more the youth are employed, the less fodder they have. The more poverty goes down, the less fodder they have to recruit from. That's the strategy. There is not scientific theorem to that. If you had a strategy, you would have done it in 10 years."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC