Interview

Epiphanies from Abdullah Gul

Turkey can be a democratic model for the Middle East, its president says.

As the first openly devout president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul believes his country can be a model for the new wave of Islamic democracies sprouting across the Arab world. But a region that seemed so hopeful when Gul landed in Egypt just days after the revolution in Tahrir Square is now beset with tension: a brewing conflict between Israel and Iran and a brutal crackdown in Syria. 


I don't think things will go in a negative direction in the countries of the Arab Spring. If you look at Turkey, we have had for many years the basic tenets and rules of democracy in place. We've always enjoyed freedom of expression and pluralism. But Arab countries for many years were closed; they were looking inward, and they suffered under dictators who were quite harsh in the way they treated their people. And that's why the opposition in those countries looked to be more radical. The prime minister in Tunisia, for example, spent more than 10 years in jail -- many of these new leaders were jailed in the last 10 to 15 years. But I don't see any type of revanchist approach in any of these people. They don't look to the past; they look to the future.


America's open support for these democratic transitions was much appreciated by the people, particularly the youth. This moral support improved the American image, which was negative. For many years there were authoritarian regimes here that were supported by the West. Those kinds of feelings won't go away overnight.


Turkey has done a lot to encourage peaceful change in Syria. In Assad's father's time, you didn't have the Internet; you didn't have Facebook; you didn't have Twitter. It was a different world. I've spoken to Bashar al-Assad about this, telling him that times have changed and that you can't continue to do things like this. Now, after all this bloodshed, we have reached the point of no return. But Russia and Iran can't keep carrying his water. They have to be a part of the international community and must act jointly to resolve this crisis.


I can understand the Iranian desire to develop their nuclear capacity. But I cannot say anything as to whether they are planning to make nuclear weapons. I'm one of those that believe this has to be resolved diplomatically. All these statements that Israel makes about making war -- I think this is wrong. Whether or not we like a country, every country has their honor and their national feelings. I don't mean to in any way disregard the threat perception on the part of Israel either, but it's very important to look at issues from a broader perspective.


Relations between Turkey and Israel haven't deteriorated just because of our government. That's a very wrong image. What happened was that there was an attack on a humanitarian aid ship 72 miles off the coast, in international waters, and nine Turks were killed. That's not something we can forget. And until Israel does the things it needs to do, one cannot speak of a normalization of relations.


Israel does not really appreciate the value of their friends. And those who govern Israel at the moment do not seem to have a farsighted look in the long term. They seem to be more engaged in a shortsighted strategic outlook. That seems to be the problem.

Illustration by Joe Ciardiello for FP

Interview

Pakistan's $10 Million Terrorist Talks

A conversation with Hafiz Mohamed Saeed.

Hafiz Mohamed Saeed, the founder of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and the suspected organizer of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, attracted some surprising international attention this week when the U.S. government announced a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture. The reward was unusual because Saeed is hardly in hiding -- he lives in a well-known compound outside Lahore and frequently speaks in public. The State Department later clarified that it was looking for information to aid in Saeed's future prosecution, not trying to determine his location, but Saeed still made the most of his 15 minutes in the spotlight, calling a press conference at which he dared U.S. authorities to apprehend him, saying, "I wish the Americans would give this reward money to me."

In February, the militant leader, who has been indicted in India for allegedly organizing the 2008 attacks, gave an interview with the Dubai-based pan-Arabic TV station Al Aan TV. In the following translated excerpt from that conversation, made available by the network to Foreign Policy, he discusses U.S. policies in Pakistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden:

Al Aan: Do you agree with the Pakistani government's policies regarding ties with India and the U.S., and Pakistan's foreign policy toward these countries?

Saeed: India is Pakistan's enemy and its sole agenda is to destabilize Pakistan. After the fall of Dhaka, it wants to dismember what remains of Pakistan in the same way. They [the United States and India] have ... organized separatist movements in Sindh and Balochistan, and established a huge terrorist network in Pakistan. I think the public and the whole world should be made aware of these things. The steps being taken for friendship between Pakistan and India and for starting trade with India by granting it most-favored nation [status] are also a conspiracy. India is the enemy of Pakistan and it will remain an enemy. Therefore, at this time, we should take measures to protect ourselves from its enmity.

As far as Pakistani-U.S. ties are concerned, we are against, from day one, the measures taken by Pakistan in favor of the U.S. Pakistan's soil should not be allowed to be used against Afghanistan. This was our principled stand from day one. But Pakistan's soil was used for this purpose. The U.S. used Pakistan's bases. Pakistan's roads, airspace, and sea routes were used by NATO and the U.S. For 10 years, they [the United States and NATO] fought a war in Afghanistan while sitting in Pakistan. They destroyed Pakistan. Pakistan was severely hit by suicide attacks and terrorism as the people living in Pakistan lost trust in each other and animosities deepened. After all these horrible realities, it is regrettable that the U.S. is blaming Pakistan.

Attempts are being made to sideline Pakistan in the ongoing talks between the U.S. and Mullah Omar. And all this is being done inside Pakistan. The steps that India used to take against Pakistan are now almost all being taken by the U.S. against Pakistan. Therefore, we should maintain ties [with other countries] only in the interest of Pakistan. It should be clear who is our friend and how much. And who is our enemy and how much.... It's not possible to maintain friendship with the U.S., who in return uses all of its weapons against us. It's very regrettable and painful.

Al Aan: Do you support the anti-U.S. war being fought inside Afghanistan?

Saeed: It is very clear that the war was imposed on Afghanistan. Therefore, we consider the struggle of Afghan nationals legitimate. They are fighting the war of freedom because the U.S. and NATO have illegally occupied Afghanistan. Afghan people have the complete right to struggle for the freedom of their country and oust the occupying forces....

Al Aan: Are some [Lashkar-e-Taiba members] fighting inside Afghanistan in a personal capacity?

Saeed: No ... No. In this matter we have no link with Afghanistan.... Once these types of allegations were leveled by India, but now the U.S. is complaining about infiltration from Pakistan. In fact, Afghans have defeated American and NATO on their own....

Al Aan: America, India, and the United Nations call you a terrorist. What do you say to that?

Saeed: Dear brother! America calls us terrorists, but now the whole world declares it the biggest terrorist... India calls us terrorists, but it is itself committing militancy. More than 100 separatist movements are working inside India. India is committing atrocities and killings everywhere. The criminal poses as a judge.

They [the United States and India] pave their way for terrorism by accusing others of this crime. They are using the propaganda of terrorism to silence the people who talk about justice, and the same politics is being played against us. Has Pakistan or any party [religious or political] occupied any country or the part of any country? Are the people of Pakistan fighting a war in India after occupying any area of India? How can India blame Pakistan for terrorism? The same is the case with America. They are themselves terrorists.

By the grace of Allah, we have always talked about freedom. When we talk about the freedom of occupied Kashmir, the whole world accepts our point of view. The Kashmir issue has been recognized and resolutions have been passed by the U.N. in this regard, and Kashmir has been admitted as an occupied territory. If America illegally occupies Afghanistan, the whole world calls it a usurper. Even the people of the U.S. say American troops should pull out from there. If you raise such demands, we are called terrorists.

Al Aan: India calls you its Enemy No. 1. America killed Osama bin Laden in an operation in Abbottabad [Pakistan]. If India commits such an action against you, what will you do?

Saeed: Look, we do not live a cave or hide in a mountain. By the grace of Allah, we live in Pakistani cities and address gatherings of thousands of people. We have a role in Pakistan. The whole world knows about the relief work of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and efforts being made by it for the welfare of the people and in the education field. God willing we will see and face India ... if India carries out an action [against me] on the basis of propaganda....

Al Aan: Several Muslim countries believe that Osama bin Laden defamed Islam and provided America with a chance to occupy Afghanistan. What do you say about this contention?

Saeed: I think all this is the propaganda of America and the West. They defamed a person for their benefit without evidence, reason, and the verdict of any court. In the same way, India has defamed me, and my name in its media is taken as a terrorist. However, when these things were presented before the [Pakistani] Supreme Court and High Court, they cleared my name of being either a terrorist or having a link with any terrorist organization. Courts exonerated the Jamaat-ud-Dawa in the Mumbai attacks case.

AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images