Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, cannot say definitely that he would have handed over Osama bin Laden to the United States if the al-Qaeda leader had been found in his country.
“Well, that is a very, uh, difficult question to answer,” Musharraf told the CBC's Peter Mansbridge in an exclusive interview, an excerpt of which was to air Friday night.
“It has great sensitivities,” Musharraf said of the bin Laden issue. “My policy on handing over people in the past was we will not hand over any Pakistani. We will ask, first of all, the country of origin of the person to take that person over. And if that does not happen — and invariably none of the countries accepted the al-Qaeda people that we apprehended — then we handed them over to anyone and the United States. Now in this case, since the matter is so sensitive, one will have to think about it when such a situation arises.”
The question arose during a wide-ranging interview in Toronto, during which Musharraf talked about Afghanistan, the Taliban and nuclear weapons, as well as his return to the Pakistani political scene.
Musharraf said that Pakistan's secret service was convinced it knew where bin Laden was in 2004. Pakistani and U.S. intelligence forces homed in on the area, but ultimately did not find him, Musharraf said.
Mansbridge asked Musharraf for his best guess as to bin Laden's whereabouts.
“There was a time we were getting these photograph releases of Osama bin Laden walking in mountains. Having some knowledge of the mountains and the landscape, I thought, maybe he's in Bajaur Agency,” Musharraf said. This is one of the northernmost tribal areas of Pakistan, across the border from Kunar province in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army moved freely inside Bajaur Agency, Musharraf said, “and nothing was found.”
Musharraf, a now-retired general who took power in a peaceable military coup in 1999, was Pakistan's leader when Islamist militants began attacking the state in earnest, and was a key ally of the George W. Bush administration's so-called war on terror after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Since he stepped down in 2008 under an impeachment threat and protests, Musharraf has been living in Britain, home to some one million people of Pakistani descent.
In October, he launched a new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League.