Maulana Fazlur Rehman is considered one of Pakistans most flexible politicians. Until a few months ago, his eponymous faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam was part of the federal coalition government. His party has recently won the opposition leader post in the Senate. NEWSWEEK Pakistans Nazar Ul Islam spoke with the JUIF chief in Islamabad on democracy, terrorism, Kashmir, and the Army. You support more trade with India. Is that possible until the Kashmir issue is resolved? For the past 60 years, the Kashmir issue has kept us walled off economically from India, and other South Asian countries. Our relations are no better with Afghanistan, which prefers India and is the key to accessing Central Asia. We abandoned the Iran pipeline because of America. Were begging for access to European markets for our goods, but what about the thriving markets in our backyard? For trading partners, we should prefer our neighbours first, then the Islamic world, and then anybody else. Is the Army an obstacle to peace with India? When this government took over, the Army proposed operations inside our own country. They started in the tribal areas and then Swat and in the process they took over the war-on-terror policy which shapes our foreign policy. The Army played its cards beautifully. Despite having a democratically-elected government, it is the Army thats engaged with foreign powers. Maybe this also suits the interests of the president and prime minister. When the Army faces difficulties, like they did after Abbottabad, they come to Parliament for cover. But their grip on politics is still so tight that I cant say democracy here is strong or free from fear. I say the Army should not be afraid of giving up control, their opinions and suggestions will still be heard. Are you hopeful on Kashmir? Indias Congress government says they are ready to talk on Kashmir with Pakistan. Obviously, we are in favour of a political solution. The establishments of both countries cant stretch this out any longer because an unbearable situation could arise that neither country will like. Things have changed so much. Now the concept of winning Kashmir has taken a backseat to the urgency of saving Pakistan. My own experience suggests that neither country is serious about Kashmir. Your party ran the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government during the Musharraf years. How are your successors different? It is the beauty of democracy that the people can choose their government every five years. Sometimes people are happy, sometimes they are annoyed, but they are the best judge. During our time, there were no damning articles, no scandals, and no fingers were raised about relief funds [following the 2005 earthquake] being misappropriated. A global organisation had declared our government the least corrupt provincial government in Pakistan. People say the Awami National Party government didnt even spare flood relief funds. Your partys government was accused of turning a blind eye to militants, if not providing outright support to them. Things were alright in our time, there was peace and calm everywhere. And if there were certain people, they were under our watch, fully controlled. Actually, nobody listens to us because they have their own agendas. We can handle all these issues even now, and there is no need for the Army to get involved. We didnt have our government in the Punjab, why did the Punjabi Taliban grow there? Deobandi scholars have declared armed struggle as un-Islamic, why is this not highlighted by the media? PM Gilani told Parliament that Osama bin Laden was a threat to Pakistan, yet your party arranged a prayer for him. Why him, and why not for Salmaan Taseer or Shahbaz Bhatti? Osama was a man of war, so his death was certain. Declaring him a terrorist or not is not the issue. How come our sovereignty was violated under Gilanis leadership? How did bin Laden get to live here for five years some hundred yards from our Army? These are the real issues. Nobody is sharing any information with us. There are so many speculations. Was he really killed? Was he killed two years ago? We are in the dark. Someone killed at war isnt dear to me, but the sovereignty of Pakistan is. But offering prayers for someone who targeted Pakistan? As a Muslim, we can offer prayers for anybody. We dont have any affiliation with Al Qaeda at all. Pakistan is our country and we are against any type of insurgency inside Pakistan. But if bin Laden lived in Pakistan, it means he wasnt interested in a war with Pakistan because he wanted to live in peace in this land. America armed and funded the militants during the Afghan jihad, garlanded these factions, and now tells us that we should eliminate them. Allah shouldnt give a death like Salmaan Taseers to anybody. He was so isolated even in death that the imam of his own Governor House declined to lead his funeral prayers. They didnt even show the man who did lead the service, so we dont know where those prayer sounds even came from. This doesnt mean we are in favour of what happened to him, but a person who is governor, enjoying a Constitutional post, cannot declare any law to be black. And I was the very first person who condemned Bhattis killing, which was not linked to the blasphemy issue. Do you support improving the blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse as Taseer and Bhatti had? Everything should be discussed at the right forum. It is strange when the Pope tells us to remove this law. Who is he to intervene in our matters? If any changes have to be made to these laws, religious scholars and institutions should not be bypassed. Who do you think was responsible for the two recent attempts on your life? In this market of war you will find items of every nature. Nobody is safe. There are some people who didnt get their place in our party and are unhappy. There is also a possibility that the suicide bombers may have been hired by some agency because certain forces want our party to not reach the common people. I havent investigated the matter. During the in-camera joint session of Parliament, the director-general of the ISI reportedly responded to your brothers rhetoric by suggesting that your party secretly receives dollars from Libya and Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us more about this? I will not comment as [Gen. Shuja Pasha] said this while angry. He should have stuck to the topic for which he was there. A person who is unable to see US helicopters violating our sovereignty, how come he is capable of seeing dollars in our pockets? A man who cant see a big tree in front of him can see straws in our eyes? He said what he said when he was angry and he has apologised. Youve said that our nuclear installations are under threat from the US. What information do you base this on? Pakistan is of all of us. The Army, we, and the common people are on the same platform. We may have a lot of reservations about each other, but when it comes to the security of Pakistan then we all should think about its defence. The isolation of the Army from the people only works to the advantage of foreign forces especially since our nuclear assets are in their hands for safeguarding. So we should not corner the Army. America and its allies are not afraid of Israel or Indias atomic bomb but they are of ours. Its wrong to claim that our nuclear weapons are unsafe because of terrorists. They are for sure unsafe from the hands of America. Do you believe the PNS Mehran attack was an inside job? If, lets suppose, the mindset of the military rank and file is different from that of the commanders, then its their responsibility to keep this in view when formulating policies. When will our madrassahs be reformed? They are already reformed. A US State Department cable alleges that your partys votes were for sale if the US were to support your bid for prime minister. This is a joke. And if the American envoy wrote such sort of crazy reports then the US should think about the type of bureaucrats and diplomats they send here who dont even understand what we are saying.