© by David Dastych. Journalist (SDP. FIJ, APAJTE) Media
agency owner of Davidís Media Agency, Warsaw, Poland.
David Dastych - A
prominent, internationally acknowledged Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir, was
the last newsman to meet and interview Osama bin Laden. In this interview,
granted to an international journalist and former intelligence operative from
Poland, David Dastych, he discusses his professional career, political and
military situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorist threats to the U.S.A.
and Europe and future plans of Bin Ladenís al Qaeda.
Interview / April 2006
David Dastych: Welcome, Mr. Mir. In July 2006 you will be only 40 years old. But your journalist achievements, in Pakistan and beyond, are really imposing. How do you feel being a celebrity?
Hamid Mir: Believe me. I donít consider myself a celebrity. I donít act and behave like celebrities. No doubt that I got the APNS (All Pakistan Newspapers Society) award of the best columnist at a very young age and became founder-editor of a newspaper at the age of 31, but I got respect and good name through my reporting ventures. I am a man of the field. I believe in legwork, I donít consider myself a very intelligent man. I think actually my legwork paid off a lot for me. I was the first and still the only Pakistani journalist who reported the conflicts not only in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, and Bosnia, Sri Lanka but also in ChechnyaÖ
David Dastych: And why do some people consider you a "controversial journalist"?
Hamid Mir: Yes, some people say that I am very controversial. I think I am controversial in my own journalistic community - - in the eyes of my political friends - - and I am controversial for my countryís military rulers because of my objectivity and non-partisan approach. When I interviewed Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, first time in Switzerland in 1994, I was quickly declared a "Mossad agent" by some of my colleagues. That was the first ever interview of any Israeli official, granted to any Pakistani journalist, because we donít have diplomatic ties with Israel even today. When I interviewed the Indian Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, in Columbia in 1995, someone wrote that I was working for the Indian secret service RAW. When I interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1997, I was declared "an ISI agent", and when I met and interviewed Osama again in 2001, the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) investigated me for my alleged connections with al Qaeda. When I interviewed the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2004, one Pakistani religious leader said that I was "a CIA agent."
David Dastych: Your reporting is risky, thenÖ
Hamid Mir: Sure. Russian Army soldiers arrested me in Chechnya in 2004. They threw me in very filthy toilet, and I was detained in that dirty place for the whole night, because they were also suspecting that I was "a CIA agent." Many people talk about me - - they wonder how this man got access to both Osama bin Laden and Condoleezza Rice. Then they float conspiracy theories about me. I listen to these theories for enjoyment because I am satisfied. The majority of my readers and TV-viewers know that I donít take sides. I always ask most difficult questions to most powerful and most dangerous people. That is the reason that common people respect me, not only in Pakistan but also in India and in other countries.
David Dastych: Were you ever really hurt by slander?
Hamid Mir: I felt hurt only once when Pakistan Army spokesman declared me "anti-state" on the government-controlled television for more than 40 minutes, in November 2005. He was not happy about my criticism of the Army relief operations for earthquake victims. I became very popular in thousands of earthquake victims but very controversial in the military circles.
David Dastych: What was your most demanding, and most dangerous experience, so far? Are you ready to risk your life for a journalist "scoop", or, should such a risk be taken only to serve a higher value?
Hamid Mir: I cannot forget the night of November 7th 2001 in Kabul. US planes were showering bombs on the city. Death was dancing everywhere. I lost the hope even for my own life. But the next morning, a smiling Osama bin Laden was sitting in front of me, but even then I was not sure that I would be able to reach back Pakistan for reporting my third interview with the most wanted person. The place where I met him was bombed immediately - within 15 minutes of my departure. When I reached to Jalalabad on the evening of November 8th, Al Qaeda fighters informed me that Osama bin Ladin and I escaped death by just 15 minutes.
I was lucky again in September 2005, when I came under heavy cross fire between al Qaeda and Pakistan Army in North Wazirastan. When people saw me on their TV screen running in the rain of bullets, they were shocked. This was the first time the common Pakistanis came to know that the situation in the tribal areas is very dangerous; that our countrymen are killing each other.
I think that a journalist must take a calculated risk to uncover the truth. Risk is the beauty of journalism, after all.
David Dastych: For what media are you working now? And in what area of journalism do you prefer to work?
Hamid Mir: Currently, I am performing duties in Geo News, a Dubai based TV channel, as the bureau chief of Islamabad. Twice a week, I am hosting a talk show. I am also writing for the Jang Group of Newspapers. I always prefer to go in the field because I think reporting is my real strength. Top Pakistani, Indian, American, British and other international personalities have appeared on my show "Capital Talk." But whenever I went outside the studio, my program became a big hit. As a working journalist I achieved maximum success and respect in the print media. I switched over to the electronic media in 2002. But, I still write. I cannot satisfy myself without writing.
David Dastych: Your interest in life goes far beyond journalism. Do you consider yourself a writer, a provocateur, or, perhaps, a politician?
Hamid Mir: First of all, I consider myself a journalist and a writer. I was offered political jumps many times, by many Pakistani governments, but always I said Ďnoí, expressing my regrets.
David Dastych: You have received many awards; which of them is the most meaningful to you?
Hamid Mir: The most meaningful award for me were some words of thanks from a seven years old boy, who lost his family in the earthquake of 2005. I reached to a remote and completely destroyed village, six weeks after the earthquake. The whole village was still without any outside help. My interview with a seven year old boy from that village got a lot of public attention. But, after that, Pakistani intelligence agents investigated the child, because they suspected that he was tutored by my TV crew. When the inquiries were finished, the Pakistani Army provided plenty of relief to the village. One day, later on, the boy called me up and said, "Thank you uncle." I will never forget his Ďthank youí, for the whole of my life.
David Dastych: Your first book, on Zulfikar Ali Bhuttoís philosophy, was published in 1990 and remains in print. Why?
Hamid Mir: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. He gave us a unanimous Constitution. But he was hanged by Army generals in 1979, with the collaboration of the Mullahs and the CIA. What was his crime? He was a socialist and he started a Pakistanís own nuclear program, after the Indians detonated their nuclear device in 1974. He discovered Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan from Holland and got his services in 1976. Bhutto was a great writer and political analyst. In 1969, he predicted the dismemberment of Pakistan. Pakistan was effectively divided in 1971. He also predicted the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of Berlin wall, already in 1978, in his last book, bearing a significant title: "If I Am Assassinated". His predictions came true ten years after his death. My book is about his political prophecies.
I think that the hanging of Bhutto was the first major victory of the Islamic radicals in Pakistan. They hanged the first ever elected and the most liberal and the most progressive Prime Minister of Pakistan, with the help of the Pakistani Army and the U.S. intelligence agency. It was, in fact, a judicial murder. Today, the same Army is fighting against the Islamic radicals, with the help of the CIA.
David Dastych: When, where and in what language, are you going to publish your forthcoming "authorized" biography of Osama bin Laden? And will it be only his biography, or more?
Hamid Mir: My book about Osama bin Laden will originally be published in English. I hope it will be translated in other languages. It wonít be only a biography but lots more. I started to write this book in 1998, with the consent of Osama bin Laden. I took lot of risks in search of the truth. In my book, I will attempt to explain why the World is becoming more unsafe day by day. I will also reveal some future plans of Osama bin Laden. The book is to be an objective analysis of the man who changed the World on 9/11. I donít care who will gain or who will lose by the revelations of my coming book. I know I am going to take another big risk on my life by publishing this book in my country, where a great majority of the Muslims still believe that 9/11 was not organized by OBL. They consider it to be a "Jewish conspiracy." I am going to oppose the disinformation and the misconceptions, spread both by the American media and by the conservative Muslim media.
David Dastych: Do you have a family, a wife and children? How do you manage to balance your risky professional life with a happy family life?
Hamid Mir: Yes, I have a family. My wife was my class fellow in the university. I have one son and one daughter. They are school-going. It is difficult to balance a busy and risky professional life with a happy family life. I think that credit goes to my family. They understand my professional obligations. I belong to a truly journalist family. My father, the late Waris Mir, was a columnist and a Professor of Journalism in the University of the Punjab, Lahore, my two brothers and my wife are also journalists.
David Dastych: Are you a devout Muslim? Do you believe that religion should be the most important guideline in the personal, family, social and national life?
Hamid Mir: No devout Muslim can claim that he is devout. Only God can judge our devotion and sincerity through our actions, not through our own claims. I cannot boast that I offer my prayers five times a day, but I must simply do that. Religion can create a sense of discipline in oneís life. I try not to miss Friday prayers, but I also work on Friday.
I think that most of the mosque-going and church-going people are God-fearing. They care for the poor and needy.
As far as my own belief is concerned, the rights of the human beings are more important than the rights of Allah (God). A trust and belief in Humanity is the most important for me. This "religion" can become a guideline in our social and national life.
David Dastych: What is your motto then, your private philosophy, and who remains your favorite spiritual guide?
Hamid Mir: My motto is Ďlive and let others live". My private philosophy is work, work and work. Hard work with good intentions always pays dividends. I donít believe in shortcuts.
I want to do something for bridging gaps between the Muslim world and the West. I am against any possible clash of civilizations. Although I am, perhaps, not a true follower of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is always the most important spiritual guide for me. He spread the message of love, not hatred. Yet, some criminals hijack his name for their own sake. Today, Prophet Muhammad is also a target of disinformation.
David Dastych: Why that disinformation?
Hamid Mir: You see, many people in the West donít know that he was a poor man like Jesus Christ. His father died shortly before his birth. His mother died when he was only six years old. He started working as a shepherd at the age of nine. As a young man, Muhammad worked as a camel driver between Syria and Arabia. At the age of twenty-five, he was employed by Khadija, a wealthy widow, who was fifteen years his senior. The honesty of Muhammad impressed her. The two were married. It was a love marriage. But extremist mullahs are against love marriage today. Muhammad had no other wife than Khadija until her death twenty-four years later. Today, many so called "champions of Islam" donít follow Muhammad as far as marriage is concerned. They donít wait for the death of their first wife. They marry and marry again just for enjoyment - - which is against Islam. Muhammad was a simple and honest man, but rich Arab sheiks and corrupt mullahs gave a bad name to his religion.
David Dastych: Is the life and deeds of Prophet Muhammad properly understood in the West?
Hamid Mir: Not always. But the are also positive examples. Many years ago, Michael Hart wrote a book about the 100 most influential persons of all times. Hart was a Christian but he placed Muhammad at the top of the list of the 100 most influential people. He wrote that Muhammad started preaching Islam in 613, and, within nineteen years, he became the ruler of all of Arabia. When he died, he had only seven dinars in his house. He asked his family to distribute these seven dinars among the poor. He was not literate, but he gave us a wonderful book, the Quran. There has been no change in that book even after 1400 years. The Holy Quran tells us: take care of the poor, resist the oppressor but donít kill innocents.
When I read this book, I discover a lot of spiritual guidance. But when I hear our mullahs, I believe most of them are misguiding us. I love Prophet Muhammad and the Quran but I hate the so-called (false) "champions of Islam."
Before the dawn of Islam, the Arabs used to bury their daughters alive immediately after their birth. Slaves were treated badly. Muhammad stopped the Arabs from mistreating women and slaves. He was a savior, not a ruthless warrior. Our religion allows us to marry a Christian or a Jewish woman. But mullahs always speak against other religions without understanding their own religion. Hate creates only more hate. And this seems to be the main problem of our times.
The Future of Pakistan
David Dastych: What is the main problem of Pakistan today: national unity, economic inequality, the rise of radical Islamism, or something else?
Hamid Mir: The main problem of Pakistan is lack of real democracy. We have a parliament. But a President in Army uniform is sitting over the parliament. We have a parliamentary form of government in our Constitution. But, in reality, our parliament is just like a rubber stamp. The President has all the power. The Constitution says that an Army Chief cannot be involved in politics. But the current Army Chief, General Pervez Musharraf, is sitting in the Presidentís House and addressing the public meetings of his allied political parties. In other words, Musharraf is running a controlled democracy in Pakistan.
I think a democracy controlled by a uniformed army general is not a democracy: it is a sort of modern dictatorship. Pakistan was created by a clean-shaved barrister Muhammad Ali Jinnah through a political struggle. Islamic radicals not only opposed Jinnah but declared him to be an infidel. Army generals never participated in our freedom movement. They were part of the British Army. But, unfortunately, after the independence, these generals grabbed power again and again by taking advantage of the differences within the political forces.
Eleven years of the military rule of General Ayub Khan weakened Pakistan, and the country was further divided when another military dictator General Yahya Khan was in power. Islamic radicals got strength when another military ruler General Zia hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979 and participated in Americaís war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.
Every military ruler in Pakistan was supported by America and every civil political government in Pakistan faced sanctions from America.
Today, Pakistan is an atomic power but we are facing nationalistic insurgency in Baluchistan and Islamist rebellion in Waziristan. The main reason of the insurgency is poverty and illiteracy. Baluch nationalists are being exploited by Indian intelligence operatives based in Afghanistan, while the tribal warriors of North and South Waziristan are fighting against their own army, because they think that Pakistan Army is launching operations against them on the behest of America.
A powerful parliament could solve the problems of Baluchistan and Waziristan through political dialogue. But Musharrafís regime is trying to solve these problems through the gun, because the gun is actually ruling Pakistan.
David Dastych: Does President Pervez Musharraf, with his pro-US policies, still enjoy widespread support among Pakistanis?
Hamid Mir: I think now President Musharraf has also realized that he is becoming unpopular because of his pro-American policies. That is the reason why he is speaking against the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, on the CNN - - just to prove that he is not an "American agent".
I am sure that both Russian and Iranian intelligence were behind this conspiracy of creating differences between Musharraf and Karzai. A few months back, a top official of Afghanistanís Interior Ministry revealed to me in Kabul that Russia and Iran are providing weapons and money to the Taliban. But we donít have enough courage to speak against them, because they have a very powerful lobby in Afghanistan now. The Afghan official said that Pakistan is a soft target and "we always speak against Pakistan."
Actually, it is the failure of the ISI and the CIA that Russia and Iran have developed good roots in Afghanistan during the last three years.
David Dastych: What sections of the society, apart from the military forces, are the mainstays of Musharrafís support?
Hamid Mir: Initially, many liberals were supporting Musharraf but now a big majority of liberals and fundamentalists are uniting against him. Two major liberal parties, led by two ex-prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, are negotiating with Islamic radicals to launch a countrywide "remove Musharraf" movement.
I believe that Americans have also realized that they are getting a bad name in Pakistan, because they are supporting a President in uniform. Thatís why they want Musharraf to take off his uniform. But Musharraf is not ready. He knows that the uniform is his real power. He has failed to introduce a popular political ideology as his ultimate source of power. He wrote an article in The Washington Post about enlightened moderation, but, in reality, his enlightenment has become a joke today. He is having a tense relationship with the Americans these days. No doubt that Musharraf also has some powerful political allies. Most of them are big landlords, tribal chiefs, some industrialists and political turncoats. These people are part of our problem; they are not a true solution of our problem. There are also some good people around Musharraf. But they are not the real decision makers. The majority of them will not stand by Musharraf in any difficult situation.
David Dastych: Is there any alternative to President Musharrafís "guided democracy"?
Hamid Mir: I must admit that Pakistan doesnít have any suitable substitute for Musharraf. If he is removed today, we donít have any alternate leader. We already have tested Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif; their hatred against each other provided Musharraf an opportunity to intervene in the countryís politics.
Islamic radicals are ruling two provinces of Pakistan. But people there are also dissatisfied with their way of governance. Yet, nobody can deny the fact that the majority of Pakistanis are united on just one point: "Down with America".
Some well wishers to Musharraf think that if he would take off his uniform this year to become the President of the ruling Muslim League, then he could get elected by the parliament very easily. Next year he could go in general elections with his political allies and he could win a good number of seats. This is the most legitimate and suitable way for him to stay in power. Otherwise, he is going to face trouble.
David Dastych: Some US and European journalists have concluded that President Musharraf, in light of the assassination attempts, is a "dead-man walking." What is your reaction to this opinion?
Hamid Mir: I cannot rule out another assassination attempt on the life of President Musharraf. But I am against any kind of violence. I think the real threat to Musharraf is not physical but political. The day three major political alliances (ARD, MMA and PONAM) formally become united and bring only 20 or 30 thousand people to the capital city, it will be very difficult for Musharraf to stay in power. He has been trying his best to divide his political opponents for a long time. But now these politicians have realized that they were playing in the hands of Musharraf.
I know that the head of the Islamist alliance MMA, Qazi Hussein Ahmid, is moving very fast towards a broad-based opposition alliance. He is trying to remove the misunderstandings between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. He is also trying to find some people, on whom the opposition could agree as the caretaker government, which would hold new elections after the removal of President Musharraf.
David Dastych: How Pakistan is fighting against the terrorists and the radical Islamist organizations? Is this war effective?
Hamid Mir: Pakistan is not winning its war against terrorism. On the opposite, the country has become more unsafe in last few years - - after the war against terrorism was started. The Pakistanis have seen suicide bombers blowing themselves up in front of them for the first time after 9/11.
There was no trouble in Baluchistan and Waziristan before 9/11. But these areas are burning after 9/11.
In last two years, the Pakistani Army has lost more than 450 soldiers only in the tribal areas, and the Americans have not lost more than 250 soldiers in Afghanistan in the last 4 years.
Pro-Taliban and pro- al Qaeda people in the Pakistani tribal areas are gaining strength not because of their ardent religious feelings but by default. The Pakistani Army is operating in tribal areas without a good political strategy.
Growing hatred against America is the biggest problem not only in the tribal areas but also in the urban centers of Pakistan. Recently, thousands of people came on the roads to protest blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. Those protesters raised more slogans against America than against Denmark. Now Bush is the most hated man in Pakistan. Modern and English speaking youth is also becoming part of that anti-American wave.
David Dastych: How real is the threat that radical Islamists eventually could gain control of the government of Pakistan?
Hamid Mir: Haahaaahaaah. SorryÖÖÖI always laugh on that question. International media have failed to understand Pakistan. Islamic radicals have opposed the creation of this country, and they would not be allowed to grab absolute power here in the future. You canít see many bearded men in the big cities of Pakistan, but ó for sure - a majority of Pakistanis are anti-American now.
Therefore, donít mix up anti-Americanism with Islamic radicalism. I think Western researchers and journalists should come to Pakistan more often. They will realize that this is one of the most liberal Islamic countries of the World. Yes, there is lot of poverty and illiteracy in the rural and tribal areas of Pakistan; the poverty creates unemployment and the unemployment breeds radicalism. Military extremism is not a solution. The real solution is through schools and colleges. These schools and colleges will only be established when a government answerable to the people will come. A civilian government answerable to a military President cannot understand and resolve these kinds of problems.
David Dastych: Is the nuclear and missile arsenal of Pakistan safe and well protected?
Hamid Mir: I have discussed this issue in detail with Dr. Samar Mubarikmand, who is now looking after the nuclear missile program. He was the person who conducted the first nuclear cold test in 1983. He was also the person who was in charge of hot nuclear tests in 1998. He told me that all our nuclear weapons have secret codes. First of all, nobody can steal them. Secondly if they are stolen, nobody can blast them without knowing the codes. Even if somebody puts a nuclear weapon in a truck and hits the truck against a building, even then there would be no blast. Our nuclear weapons are in safe hands and well protected.
David Dastych: Did the recent disclosure of the worldwide nuclear proliferation by the A.Q. Khan Laboratories harm the international reputation of Pakistan?
Hamid Mir: Definitely. It damaged Pakistanís credibility. But the heart of the matter is that the majority of Pakistanis still consider Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan a great national hero. They think that Dr. Qadeer is just a scapegoat. Pakistani media projected Dr. A.Q. Khan as a hero for a very long time in the past. I tell you that he is a metallurgist not a nuclear scientist. He helped Pakistan with the technology of the uranium enrichment. All the nuclear weapons and missiles were designed and tested by other scientists, who were part of the Atomic Energy Commission of Pakistan, while Dr. Qadeer was running the Kahuta Research Laboratories.
David Dastych: Is Pakistan afraid of Iranís aggressive policy, its nuclear build up, and its support for radical Islamist terrorism?
Hamid Mir: Pakistan started facing problems from Iran immediately after the Khomeini revolution in 1979. Iran tried to export its Shia revolution to all the neighboring countries. Pakistan started supporting the Taliban in 1995, because pro-Iranian armed groups in Afghanistan burned down our Embassy in Kabul.
It was Iran, which helped the Northern Alliance against the Taliban for many years. Ironically, both Iran and America supported the Northern Alliance after 9/11. It was again Iran, which indirectly helped Americans to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Iranians wiped out their enemies from Afghanistan and Iraq with the help of Americans. Iranian intelligence was also involved in some terrorist incidents within Pakistan. The Khatami government in Iran provided some right or wrong information to the IAEA about an alleged Pakistanís secret support to Tehran. The Khatami regime tried to create problems for Pakistan intentionally.
Ayatollah Khatami was so close to India that he was the chief guest on the Republic Day of India two years ago. After the fall of the Khatami regime in Iran, Pakistan has developed better relations with Tehran.
The new Iranian regime is more anti-American than anti-Pakistani.
But still some people in Pakistan think that if the American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, the Iranians could once again increase their interference in Afghanistan, and they might create problems for Islamabad.
David Dastych: What was the Pakistani reaction to President Bush's recent visit to India, and to the nuclear agreement, granting India a priority?
Hamid Mir: Very negative. The credibility of President Musharraf was damaged at every level. America actually violated the NPT by signing a nuclear deal with India. China also responded negatively to that deal. The anger in public was so visible and so high that Musharraf was forced to criticize the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Thirty years ago, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto signed a nuclear agreement with France. It was for energy purposes, but the American President, Jimmy Carter, opposed that. He forced France to cancel the deal in 1977. Bhutto clearly spoke against America in the National Assembly of Pakistan and, after a few weeks, he was thrown into prison by the Pakistani Army. Now the common Pakistanis ask: why America has different policy for Pakistan and India. President Bush has helped anti-American elements in Pakistan by signing the nuclear deal with India. He never spoke to India about the resolution of the Kashmir issue. There are UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, which say that India and Pakistan should agree on a plebiscite to decide about the future of Kashmir. Fifty-five years have passed, but these resolutions are not implemented. The Kashmir issue is one of the main sources of spreading extremism and anti-Americanism. Kashmir is like a "Palestine dispute" in South Asia. Bush failed to address both the Kashmir and the Palestine issues.
Al-Qaeda has not abandoned nukes - Bin Ladenís biographer predicts America will negotiate some day
David Dastych: Is support for al-Qaeda and the jihad against the US and the West gathering momentum throughout the Muslim world?
Hamid Mir: Honestly speaking, yes. Osama bin Laden is becoming the hero of anti-American Muslim youth by default. Many Muslims are of the view that America played a role in the implementing the UN resolutions on East Timor. This Christian majority province of Indonesia got independence through the UN, but the Muslim majority Kashmir area of India is denied the same right, because the West is biased against the Muslims. Now the Muslim youth is getting allergic of Islamic clerics who oppose al Qaeda. More than 1500 tribal elders and Islamic clerics have been assassinated by pro-al Qaeda militants in South Waziristan area of Pakistan, in the past two years. These 1500 elders and clerics cooperated with the Pakistani Army and opposed the presence of foreign fighters in their area. Now the Taliban unofficially controls this area.
David Dastych: Is it true that the Taliban grew in strength, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan?
Hamid Mir: I have visited 12 provinces of the East and South Afghanistan recently. The Taliban is controlling all the rural and mountain areas of the Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Zabul, Helmand, Oruzgan provinces and some areas of the Kandahar province. People cannot enter these territories on government vehicles. Men without beard have to make some explanation, or they could be arrested. District Taliban commander and provincial Taliban commander is the real ruler. Afghan police is weak. Coalition troops are limited in number and Pashtun population is supportive to the Taliban.
The Taliban has become some kind of a Pashtun nationalist movement.
You can see the same situation in the Pakistani tribal territory of South Waziristan. The Taliban is becoming popular there, because America is unpopular and the Pakistani Army is busy in North Waziristan. The Taliban is trying to control some regular areas of Pakistan, too. But they failed, because ordinary Pakistanis are ready to rise slogans against America, but they donít like the Talibanís hold on their lives. The Taliban has no ability to attract common Pakistanis. They can only lead and motivate some youngsters to fight against America.
If the President of Pakistan and the President of Afghanistan were not ready to accept my claims, they should accompany me to these areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan with some international media personalities, and the world will come to know who is right and who is wrong. This is my challenge.
David Dastych: How widespread is the support for Osama bin Laden now?
Hamid Mir: Osama bin Laden is the most popular man in Saudi Arabia today. He is popular in many other Muslim countries. But he has become more popular only after 9/11. Incidents like the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Gharib jail, the desecration of Holy Quran in Guantanamo Bay prisons, and then the publication of the blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark spread a lot of hatred against the West in the Muslim world. This hatred is the real strength of Osama bin Laden.
David Dastych: Is it true that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, and not OBL, is the real "brain" of al-Qaeda and its strategic planner?
Hamid Mir: I donít agree with the theory that Dr. Ayman al- Zawahiri is the brain behind Osama. He is a close associate of Osama, but not his "brain". Dr. Zawahiri was not aware about the 9/11 planning. He was not present in the meeting of Osama and Mullah Omar, which took place in Southern Afghanistan in August 2005. Suicide bombings in Afghanistan were approved by Mullah Omar in that meeting. How can Zawahiri be the brain of Osama? The real brain was Muhammad Atef, who was killed in November 2001 in Ghazni by missiles fired from American Predator planes.
Osama himself has a very sharp mind. America has failed to nab him. The failure of America proves that Osama bin Laden is clever.
David Dastych: Excuse me, but this opinion contradicts your previous statements about Dr. Zawahiri, expressed in your interview for the Australian ABC TV, screened on March 22, 2004, and on other occasions. What made you change your mind?
Hamid Mir: Yes, you are absolutely right. I changed my opinion about Zawahiri in the last six months. I traveled thousands of kilometers in the East and South Afghanistan in August 2005, and then in the North and South Waziristan in Pakistan, through September and October of the same year. I met many Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in these remote mountain areas. During my interviews with them, and after doing lots of research, I came to the conclusion that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri is not the brain behind Osama bin Laden. Definitely, he is close to him even now, but these days Abdul Hadi (also an Egyptian, based in Southern Afghanistan) is more important. He is heading the Shura (Grand Consultative Council) of al Qaeda. I also met some other very important al Qaeda leaders in Kunar. They told me that Zawahiri came to know about the 9/11 attacks through them, as he was not aware about the plans of these attacks earlier.
Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri is actually an important al Qaeda link to Iran.
He has old connections in the Iranian intelligence. In the last four years, he has spent lots of time in Iran. For the last two years, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are not together for security reasons, but they are in touch.
David Dastych: There were many diverging reports about the supposed whereabouts of OBL (Afghanistan, Pakistanís Tribal Territories, Chinese Muslim territories, Iran). What is your guess? And do you get news from him from time to time, as before?
Hamid Mir: I donít believe in guessing games. Osama bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora in December 2001, came to Pakistan, and then entered again in Afghanistan from Khost. Ever since, he was moving in between Pakistan and Afghanistan very carefully. US Military Commander General Richard Myers told me the same thing in an interview some time ago.
Two years ago, he was seen in the Kunar province of Afghanistan. One year ago he was seen in Pakistani tribal areas. I think he is changing his positions but still hiding in the difficult areas of Eastern Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan. There, the local population is very cooperative with al Qaeda. Not only for money but also out of conviction.
Osama is the beneficiary of the American occupation of Iraq.
Now, that Americans have reduced their troops from Afghanistan, they are very busy in Iraq. They got Saddam Hussein with 150,000 troops in Iraq. How can they get Osama from Afghanistan with only 16,000 American troops?
He is also the beneficiary of the differences between Musharraf and Karzai. I got some CDs from al Qaeda in Kunar in 2004, and also in North Waziristan in 2005. They provide their messages on CD and they record their military actions on camera.
David Dastych: Do you think that the Bush Administration refuses to make any attempt to capture or kill bin Laden a top priority? Why?
Hamid Mir: I think that Americans are afraid of sending their troops to Afghanistan in big number. Afghanistan is more difficult than Iraq. Americans are involved in Iraq. They are fighting Osama also in Iraq; they know that he would be more deadly in Afghanistan.
David Dastych: What is your reaction to a report from Congressman Curt Weldon that OBL recently died in Iran?
Hamid Mir: I think Congressman Weldon got an information that is not true. Osama bin Laden is very much alive. He met Mullah Omar last year. He is sending his messages to Al-Jazeera. I am told by some militants in North Waziristan that he will reappear very soon through a very important video message. [Osama bin Laden sent his taped message soon after. His tape was played on Al-Jazeera on Sunday, April 23, 2006]
David Dastych: In your previous interviews, published in 1998 and in 2001, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri suggested that al Qaeda had some tactical nuclear weapons and so called "dirty bombs". Have you ever seen any of these weapons? If so, when and where?
Hamid Mir: I have not seen any nuclear weapons in the hands of Osama or Zawahiri, but their close associates told me, in November 2001 in Kabul, that they had bought some suitcase nuclear bombs from the Russian black market, many years ago. I asked a question about the nukes to Osama bin Laden in 1998. He ignored my question. When I asked this question again, in November 2001, he said: yes, we have nuclear weapons as deterrence. In 2004, I visited one mountain area in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, where al Qaeda reportedly tested a nuclear "dirty bomb" in 2000.
David Dastych: There were many reports of the assistance al-Qaeda received from the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories? How close was the relationship between OBL and Dr. A. Q. Khan?
Hamid Mir: It was difficult for Dr.Qadeer to cooperate with Al Qaeda openly. Dr. Qadeer was under permanent surveillance of the CIA. I came to know, through some sources, that one captured Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Muhammad had claimed to the CIA that he met Dr.Qadeer in 2003, but it was not confirmed.
Americans have not come out with any video or audio statement of K.S. Muhammad. Another important point: Dr. Qadeer is a metallurgist; he can enrich uranium and you know that its enrichment needs lot of logistics, which were not available in Afghanistan. Dr. Qadeer was only in a position to provide some technical drawings, but I didnít find out any details on that either.
David Dastych: Basing on your knowledge and on information received from some al-Qaeda leaders, what is your assessment of al-Qaedaís nuclear arsenal today?
Hamid Mir: I think they must have smuggled nuclear materials, including dirty bombs, to Europe and America. They are waiting for some appropriate time, and they might be waiting for a U.S. attack on Iran for giving a signal to their "sleepers" to begin their action. Al Qaeda and Iran have a long secret relationship.
David Dastych: What do you know about the plans for an "American Hiroshima"? Are they still being considered by Osama bin Laden, or abandoned as unrealizable?
Hamid Mir: Osama bin Laden planned deadly attacks against his enemies already in 1998. I actually met a person in Afghanistan, who visited Moscow many times, between 1998 and 2001, with Jumma Namangani (an ex-soldier of the Russian Army, who joined al Qaeda in 1989). They were in touch with Russian underworld, through some Chechen leaders. These Chechens have organized the smuggling of at least three nuclear "suitcase bombs" for al Qaeda from Moscow to Georgia, and from there to Italy. I was also introduced to an Ukrainian scientist in Kandahar, in 1998. One al Qaeda operative, known to me only as Saad, told me that this Ukrainian scientist was working for al Qaeda.
Some of the Osamaís fighters left for the targets in Europe and America even before the fall of the Taliban in November 2001.These are hard core militants, most of them are Algerians and Chechens bearing European passports with false Christian and Jewish names. I will give more details in my coming book.
David Dastych: Was al Qaeda involved in the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995?
Hamid Mir: No, I donít think so. You should not underestimate Osama bin Laden. He was always planning bigger attacks, even bigger than 9/11. He has not abandoned his plans for an "American Hiroshima", and he is very, very patient.
David Dastych: In your opinion, what should be done to avoid nuclear or other WMD attacks, being prepared by al Qaeda against America and Europe?
Hamid Mir: I think, thereís an urgent need to engage al Qaeda in talks. I really predict that the West will begin to talk to al Qaeda one day. Why to delay these talks? Why not to begin them now? Should we wait for more destruction and more bloodshed?
David Dastych: If you could meet Osama bin Laden and interview him again, would you risk your life, as in November 2001?
Hamid Mir: Yes, I would, if it could help to solve problems and to assure peace both to the Muslims and to the Western people. But it seems very, very difficult now.
David Dastych: Thereís a popular saying: "better late than never". Maybe itís not too late yet to stop the terrorist war, and to find a peaceful solution? Thank you, Hamid Mir, for your very interesting and thoughtful interview.
About Mr. Hamid Mir
A Pakistani journalist known for his conflict and war reporting, currently working with Geo TV News Television Channel and writing for JANG Group of Newspapers. Hamid Mir has received many national and international awards. He has presented many papers on Terrorism and conflict resolution in many international seminars.
Gained a M.A in Mass Communications from the University of The Punjab, Lahore in 1989. He joined Daily Jang Lahore in 1987 and worked there as Sub-Editor, Reporter, Feature Writer and Edition in charge. In 1994, he broke the submarines purchase scandal in Daily Jang. Some close friends of Asif Zardari (husband of then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto) were involved in that scandal along with some Navy officials. Hamid Mir lost his job the day his article was published. In 1996, he became the editor of Daily Pakistan Islamabad making him the youngest editor of any national Urdu newspaper in the history of Pakistani journalism. He lost his job again in 1997 when he wrote an article in Daily Pakistan about the alleged corruption of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In 1997 he joined Daily Ausaf Islamabad as Founding Editor. He spent ten days in the Eastern part of Afghanistan and investigated the great escape of Osama bin Ladin from Tora Bora mountains in December 2001. He joined GEO TV as Editor Northern Region in 2002 and has hosted Capital Talk (a twice a week political talk show in which all the top Pakistani politicians from the government and opposition have appeared) from November 2002 onwards.
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmid Jalali was been forced to resign when the investigative documentary by Hamid Mir was aired on Geo TV in September 2005.
He is currently performing duties in Geo TV as Bureau Chief of Islamabad and Editor Northern Region and is writing a biography of Osama bin Ladin as well as a weekly column in Daily Jang and The News.
Notable Articles and awards
Contributed weekly column for "The Friday Times" from 2000 to 2002 and for weekly "The Independent" from 2002 to 2003.
Contributed columns for "The Times of India", "Outlook, Delhi" "The Week, India", "Dainik Bhaskar"(Biggest Hindi Newspaper of India) and "Rediff.com".
Got All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) award for best columnist (Urdu) for the years of 1996,1997,and 1998.
Received Maharishi Samman Award for Excellence in Journalism announced by Trust for Media Studies in Jodhpur in March 2005
Awarded Fatima Jinnah Gold Medal from the Ministry of Women Development, Government of Pakistan for writing and speaking for the women rights in August 2005.
Interviewed Israeli Foreign Minister Shamon Peres in 1994 for Daily Jang in Switzerland. It was the first ever interview from any high Israeli official to any Pakistani Journalist.
Interviewed Indian Prime Minister Narasema Rao in Columbia, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in New York and South African President Nelson Mandela in New Zealand in 1995.
Interviewed Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Rangchi in Beijing 1999.
Interviewed Indian Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani in 2001 In Delhi, interviewed him again in 2005 in Islamabad and interviewed Indian foreign Minster Yashwant Senha in November 2003 in Delhi.Yashwant Senha broke the story that Vajpaee would participate in the SAARC Summit to be held in January 2004.
Interviewed Osama Bin Ladin for Daily Pakistan in 1997,for Daily Ausaf in 1998 and for Daily Dawn in 2001. Third interview was the first one after 9/11 to any journalist and BBC and CNN declared it an international scoop. Monthly Herald announced that interview as the scoop of the year in its annual issue of December 2001.
Covered 50th Anniversary of United Nations in 1995(New York) Common Wealth Conference in 1995(New Zealand) Non Aligned Conference in 1995 (Columbia), SAARC Conference in 1998(Colombo), D-8 Conference in Ankara, 1998.India Pakistan talks in Agra 2001, SAARC conference in January 2004,Presidential Election in Afghanistan in October 2004.
Interviewed President General Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Ex Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Mir Zafarullah Jamali, US Secretary of State Dr.Condoleezza Rice, Ex US Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powel, General Richard B.Myers, US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard Armitage, US ex deputy Secretary of State, President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for GEO TV.
Participated in CNNís Wolf Blitzer Show, Larry King Show (twice), BBCís Simpsonís World and dozens of other CNN, BBC, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, ZEE, AAJ TAK TV, STAR TV and NDTV programmers as an expert on South Asian politics and International Terrorism.
American newspaper Christian Science Monitor declared him a hero of Pakistani masses after his coverage of October 8th 2005 earthquake.
Author of a book on the political philosophy of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto published in 1990 and still in print.