In his first interview since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Asif Ali Zardari, President, Pakistan, spoke exclusively to CNN?s Larry King expressing his condolences to India and stressing that Pakistan was not involved, saying they are also "victims of this war."
Asif Ali Zardari, President, Pakistan took office in September. He's the widower of the former Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, both of whom were on this program in the past. ?I think these are stateless actors who have been operating all throughout the region. The state of Pakistan is no way responsible -that I believe. Even the White House and the American CIA have said that today. The state of Pakistan is of course not involved,? Zardari said. ?We're part of the victims. I'm a victim. The state of Pakistan is a victim. We are the victims of this war, and I am sorry for the Indians, and I feel sorry for them.?
Following is a select transcript of Larry King?s exclusive interview with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
Now, Mr. President, aside from the gunmen themselves, who do you believe was responsible for the terrorist attacks against Mumbai?
Larry, I think these are stateless actors who have been operating all throughout the region. The gunmen, plus the planners, whoever they are, they are stateless actors who are holding hostage the whole world.
So the state of Pakistan is in no way responsible, you're saying.
The state of Pakistan is no way responsible. That I believe. Even the White House and the American CIA have said that today. The state of Pakistan is of course not involved. We're part of the victims, Larry.
I'm a victim. The state of Pakistan is a victim. We are the victims of this war, and I am sorry for the Indians, and I feel sorry for them.
I've seen this pain. I feel this pain every time I see my children. I can see it in their eyes. This pain lives with me because of my wife and what we are going through in Pakistan.
What do you know about this lone surviving attacker, the man that's in custody? Is he definitely a Pakistani?
Not as yet. We have not been giving any tangible proof to say that he is definitely a Pakistani. I very much doubt, Larry, that he's a Pakistani.
Really? Who do you think -- what's your guess?
Like I said, these are stateless individuals who operate throughout -- I mean, I've got a situation in Pakistan that the fourth largest army in the world is challenged on my border on the west. I've got 150 people out, boys out, soldiers out. We have casualties every day.
We've had incidents just the past two days in Karachi where we've lost more than 40 to 45 people, hundreds injured. These are stateless actors who are moving throughout this region.
What do you believe is the responsibility, if any, of -- I want to get this right -- Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that's aimed at ending Indian rule in Kashmir? Do you think they're involved?
That's a banned organization, Larry, in Pakistan and all around the world. If indeed they are involved, we would not know. Again, they are people who operate outside the system. They operate like -- al Qaeda, for instance, is not state-oriented. They operate something on that mechanism, and we would love to -- I've already offered to India full cooperation on this incident, and we intend to do that.
Do you believe that al Qaeda -- you mentioned them -- might be involved?
We cannot rule anything out at the moment, Larry. It's too premature.
All right. Pakistan, you've called on India to produce evidence of the complicity of any Pakistani group in the attacks. If it's produced, what would you do?
I would -- my government would take action, our government would take action, the democratic government of Pakistan would take action against all the actors and anybody who is involved.
So you're firmly committed to getting at the root of this?
Not just the root of this. I'm firmly committed to fighting terrorism per se. That's why we are fighting them every day, Larry.
In a new interview, India's external affairs minister has declined to rule out the possibility of Indian military strikes against terror camps in Pakistan. He says that every country has a right to protect itself. Do you agree with that?
I would not agree with that because this is a time to come together and do a joint investigation and look at the problem in the larger context. We have a larger threat on our hands.
The threat is in the region, and just not to Bombay or to India. The threat to the state of Pakistan. There's a threat to the state of Afghanistan. It's a threat throughout the region. So that would be counterproductive, Larry.
Both your nation and India have nuclear arms. Would Pakistan ever make -- can you conceive of Pakistan ever making a preemptive strike?
Larry, I've already been on record, and I have said so, that Pakistan has no intention of ever being the perpetrator of first use.
Would you favor the ban of all nuclear weapons everywhere?
In fact, I have asked the Indians to join me. I have asked the Indians to join us in a nuclear-free South Asia. And we are willing -- I am willing to assure the world, on behalf of my parliament, that if India comes with us, we can together jointly sign a nuclear-free South Asia.
Do you think that would happen? Do you think it could happen?
We can definitely stand on the possibility of that to happen, Larry.
All right. Your nation and India, you fought three wars since the subcontinent was divided at the end of British rule back in 1947. What do you think is the potential for another war now?
Larry, democracies don't go to war. All those wars you're talking about did not take place in any democracy. They all happened in the times of dictators. So democracies do not go to war. War is not our expression of thought.
What about America in Iraq?
Well, that's exactly an example today that America went to Iraq in a reaction to the attack on America. That's a reactive action, and that is something that the terrorists are always looking for, because they can corner the state stateless, actors can corner the state to go into a motion or an action which otherwise they would not do. This is exactly the fear, and that's why we should rise above it.
Mr. President, are you -- by the way, are you actively working at finding out who caused this attack?
Obviously, all my state of practice is looking into the allegation that has been thrown at us from across the border. Obviously, if an accusation of this sort comes (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ask the intelligence agencies to investigate.
And do you have a lot of respect for and confidence in your intelligence agency?
That, and the fact that we are all hoping to improve our relationships with India and all the democracies of the world. The whole nation of Pakistan is united to making -- having friends -- becoming friends with India.
This was just issued this morning, Mr. President. "The odds that terrorists will soon strike a major city with weapons of mass destruction are now better than even. This, a bipartisan congressionally-mandated taskforce concluded in a draft study, and they particularly single out Pakistan with grave concern because of its terrorist attacks, history of instability and arsenal of several dozen nuclear warheads."
How do you act to that report?
Ever the more reason that Pakistan needs more help, more attention, and more looking into and looking after. So we appeal to the world and the world at large, and our neighbors, to sit down and find solutions to all problems facing the region in today's times.
The report also said, "Pakistan is our ally, but there is a grave danger. It can also be an unwitting source of a terrorist attack on the United States, possibly with weapons of mass destruction." Do you agree?
Well, that's a position that has been going -- it's a continued situation which we've inherited. It's part of the Afghan problem, part of the war in Afghanistan, part of the war in our northern regions. That is an issue that needs more attention, and I'm hoping that the new administration coming in will work with us to look into it for a regional solution.
We've been advocating a regional solution. We need more participation from our neighbors, India, China, and extended neighbors as such in the UAE. We all need to come together on a collective mindset and find solutions to that problem.
By the way, what do you make of President-elect Obama?
I think there's a world romance with Obama. And we all in Pakistan -- throughout the world there's a romance to Obama, and we are looking forward to working with him.
What steps, Mr. President, is your government taking to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons? This is something every country fears. Are you taking steps at preventing it?
We have a command and control system for that. We're a very responsible state as far as that subject goes, and we have a command and control system under a special organization.
And are you confident that they're working well?
Yes, I'm totally confident that our command and control system is working well.
Because in the past, Mr. President, the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has provided support for militant movements. And what is the government doing to root that out?
In the past, lots of mistakes have been made, I cannot deny that. But the present government does not support any such action and the ? I can assure the world from my side, from my Army?s side, from my parliament?s side and the people of Pakistan that we are not helping any such activity.
Mr. President, the Indian government is demanding that your nation hand over some 20 suspected terrorists believed to be living in Pakistan. What is your response to this? Among those are Dawood Ibrahim, a powerful gangster, Masood Azar, a terror suspect from Indian prison, in exchange for the release of hostages. And Hafiz Muhammad, the former chief of a terrorist group. Are you going to comply with that?
I am definitely going to look into all the possibility of any proof that is given to us. At the moment these are just names of individuals. No proof, no investigation, nothing has been brought to forward. We have offered to take this step forward and cooperate with the Indians. I am willing to have my security advisor and their security in charge of our intelligence security and their intelligence security, have a joint committee which we have proposed to the Indians for a joint investigation in all ? in the Bombay incident.
And if you had the proof you would turn them over?
If we had the proof, we would try them in our courts, we would try them in our land and we would sentence them.
Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state is coming to India, coming today I think. Would you meet with her?
I am hoping to meet with her in Pakistan. She is hoping ? I think she is coming here too.
What do you make and how do you look forward to working with the possible incoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton?
I am looking forward to working with Hillary Clinton. We know each other, we?ve met before, we have known each other for a long time, since my wife?s time. She has been a good friend of Pakistan in the past and we hope to work with her, we?re looking forward to working with her.
Do you think she is a good choice?
I think she is an excellent choice.
All right. Do you ? during the campaign, President-Elect Obama said he believes that if the United States is given actionable intelligence it has the right to attack high value terrorist targets in Pakistan with our without permission of the Pakistani government. What do you make of that?
I think it?s a misquote. I think the actual quote is that if we did not take action then the president-elect has said that he would take action. But that would never arise. The minute we get any actionable intelligence given to us we shall act ourselves.
Do you believe that the Mumbai attacks may have been partly intended to destabilize your own government? You?re trying to get rapprochement with India, you think they were trying to upset that?
That is my position, Larry. I have been trying to advocate throughout the world that the stateless actors, states to hold states and they want states to go into wars, do wars, it has happened in the past. You will remember history correctly, even the Second World War (sic) was perpetrated by a stateless actor, murdering of the Prince (inaudible) if you?ll remember and so is the case of 9/11, it was a stateless actor who willed the world go to war.
So we should all rise above it. I expect the Indian democracy which is senior, which is an older democracy, mature democracy, I expect them to rise above this pain and the loss that they have had and come together with us to fight terrorism in the region.
There are some suggestions that the more vehemently Indian calls on you to crack down on militants, the tougher politically it is for you to do so. Do you buy that?
Larry, politics has never been an easy place in Pakistan and it?s not easy to inherit from a dictator so I ? it?s a difficult place, it?s a difficult choice but we will rise to difficult challenges.
This may be an impossible question but we?ll ask it anyway. Do you believe it?s possible for you and India to live in peace?
I am looking forward and I am hoping that I will be the catalyst that makes India and Pakistan live in peace forever.
So you would meet with the leaders there as well?
Of course. I am looking forward to that. I am looking forward to making it a regional economical zone. I am looking forward to working in all walks of life together and India is a neighbor, it is 1 billion plus people, it?s a market, it?s an opportunity, relations with India is an opportunity for Pakistan.
A couple of other things. There are many who believe that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan. Are you trying to find him?
Larry, the Americans and the world forces have been in Afghanistan and around my region and have much, much better technology and intelligence than we have. If you think he was there or anywhere around they would have gotten before me but in case I do get any intelligence and I do find out. We will definitely try and take the trophy ourselves if we can.
What would you do with him if you found him?
That?s a hypothetical question. Hopefully arrest and try him.
We can see, we can talk about it. It?s a hypothetical question, Larry. First let?s find him. Nobody has been able to find him in the past eight years.
The show will air Wednesday, December 3 on CNN International at 1530hrs IST.