Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, says his country's troops do not know the whereabouts of wanted al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Speaking on the CNN television program Late Edition, President Musharraf said the Pakistani military is still committed to finding Osama bin Laden, but is not searching for him exclusively. "When you talk only of bin Laden, frankly, the issue is not going and locating one individual. We are operating against all terrorists. Now, within that, we don't know where he is. He could be anywhere," he said.
The head of the al-Qaida network is accused of the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. General Musharraf said he believes the wanted terrorist is not on Pakistan's side of the border because of Pakistani military presence there. "Is that the case on the Afghan side? Is all the border region, is the [Afghan] military operating in all the border regions of the border? No sir, they are not," he said. "So, I leave it to anybody's judgment, where would he feel safer?"
In an interview that was published in Sunday's Washington Post newspaper, Mr. Musharraf suggested that Washington shares some of the responsibility because the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan does not have enough troops there. In the same interview, he said Pakistani intelligence has only been able to determine that Osama bin Laden is still alive, but does not know where he is hiding.
The CNN interview also took place in Washington, after Mr. Musharraf met with President Bush at the White House Saturday. The Pakistani leader said his priority was to push for a resolution to the Middle East crisis. "That [issue] was on top of my agenda, frankly," he said. "And I am very glad to say that President Bush realizes it. And he is very sure that he is going to play a very active role in bringing peace to the region, and on the basis of two states, Israel and Palestine."
President Musharraf said he does not believe the Iraq war has made the world safer. But he said he believes finding lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will be good for global security because the issue has repercussions with Muslims and in Islamic countries around the world. "Yes, indeed [the world will be safer]. Because that's going to pull the rug out from under the feet of all extremist organizations, I think," he said.
One contentious issue between the United States and Pakistan is Abdul Qadeer Khan, the man whom U.S. officials believe helped countries such as Libya develop nuclear bombs. Pakistan has refused to allow investigators from the United States or the International Atomic Energy Agency to directly question Mr. Khan, who has been pardoned and remains in Pakistan.
Currently, all questions and answers to and from Mr. Khan go through Pakistani officials. Mr. Musharraf said trying to bypass Pakistani officials shows a lack of trust in Pakistan. "We can question him the best. And there is a sensitivity, there is a domestic sensitivity. This man is a hero for the Pakistanis. And, the the sensitivity that maybe the world wants to interfere in our nuclear program, which nobody wants, which nobody likes. It's the pride of the nation," he said.
The Pakistani leader acknowledged that Mr. Khan was discussed in his talks with President Bush, and that the main focus was on U.S. requests to see if Mr. Khan could reveal any more information.
On the issue of Pakistan's relations with India, Mr. Musharraf said he is optimistic and, in his words, fairly upbeat that the two nuclear-armed countries will move ahead on resolving disputing claims to the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
The Pakistani leader came to the United States for a one-day visit, following stops in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. He meets with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London Monday.