CNN Interview: Husain Haqqani on the Pakistani Taliban School Attack

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I’m Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

Let’s get back to our top story, slaughter in Pakistan. After one of Pakistan’s bloodiest days, there are defiant pledges to strike back against terrorism. But we must remember, this is a country that has been gripped by an insurgency now for more than a decade. The Pakistan Taliban, other terror groups, they’ve killed tens of thousands since Pakistan joined the United States in the war on terror.

We’re joined now by the former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani. He’s also the director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute here in Washington, a think tank.

Ambassador, thanks for coming in.

Who are these terrorists, these savages that can go into a school and say, if you’re below puberty, you’re not going to die, but if you’re 13, 14, 15, you’re dead? Why would these people do that to young school kids?

HUSAIN HAQQANI, FORMER PAKISTAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Wolf, we’ve already seen Boko Haram in Nigeria which does the same thing. They’re all chips off the same block. They all believe in just wanting to overrun the countries where they are trying to wage wars and they want basically no one to learn anything that is modern. And they want their own way of life as they see it to be imposed on everyone by force. So they are savages. The issue is, how do we deal with it? And —

BLITZER: How? What’s the answer?

HAQQANI: And what we need essentially is that there is a lot of sadness today and there’s a lot of outrage in my country, Pakistan. And I share it. But we need to transform it into resolve. Pakistan has seen these attacks for many, many years. We’ve lost at least 20,000 civilians and more than 6,000, 7,000 soldiers fighting the menace. But unless and until we decide that all terrorists need to be eliminated and that their ideology needs to be delegitimized instead of saying they have some legitimate grievances against the West, basically no grievance actually allows something like what happened in Peshawar.

BLITZER: They don’t want any education, certainly not for girls, right? HAQQANI: They don’t want education for girls. They don’t want

Western education. They want a specific type of education. But I don’t think this was about education. This was about retaliation for the Pakistani army’s very belated but brave effort to deprive them from having a safe haven in the north, where they have been ensconced for a long time. But unfortunately, Pakistan’s problem has been, as Hillary Clinton put it, that you can’t have snakes in your backyard in the hope that they will only bite the neighbors. Today these snakes, of course, are biting Pakistanis, and Pakistan needs to have a comprehensive strategy against all jihadi groups.

BLITZER: These children, 130 out of 141 people who were killed, 130 at least school kids, they’re children of Pakistan military officers —

HAQQANI: Not all of them. A lot of them are civilians. But, Wolf, every child is your child, every child is my child. And if their father is in the Pakistani military, that’s something for them to be proud of and for us to be proud of. The real issue here is it confused society where some political leaders, for their own objectives, many media leaders, have told the people of Pakistan that somehow this extremism is an outgrowth, a product of just politics. It’s not. It’s a mindset. And that mindset needs to be fought and competed with. And it hasn’t been done. That’s why we are having these attacks.

BLITZER: What is the connection between the Pakistan Taliban and ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabaab?

HAQQANI: They all share a similar ideology. Most of them were borne out of the war against the Soviets. That’s when they got military training. But since then, they’ve all gone on their own. There are elements within the Pakistani Taliban who actually have pledged some kind of allegiance or support for ISIS. There are others. There are factions. The problem is that this cannot be seen as like a company having another spin-off. These are people with a shared world view, but with different organizations who operate. And all of them, all of them are a problem for the whole world and for Pakistan.

BLITZER: How good or bad is U.S./Pakistan cooperation in the war on terror right now?

HAQQANI: Well, the U.S. and Pakistan have continued to struggle in having cooperation. The biggest problem is that Pakistan has not made the decision to treat all terrorist groups as equally bad. The consequence of that is, for example, only a few days ago, a terrorist group, which is believed by the Americans, by the Indians, by the rest of the world as being responsible for the Mumbai attacks just a few years ago, that group openly held its convention in the Pakistani city of Lahore. Now, that annoys the Americans. But the American government continues to give financial support to Pakistan and military support. The question is, will Pakistan be able to transfer its grief and anger into serious policy which basically delegitimizes all jihadi extremists, all Taliban, all factions of militant groups that are operating in Pakistan.

BLITZER: Ambassador Haqqani, thanks for joining us.

HAQQANI: Pleasure being here.

BLITZER: Husain Haqqani is the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States.