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Pakistan: Musharraf Urges U.S. To Tackle Terrorism's 'Root Causes'

  • Jeffrey Donovan

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S. war on terrorism, was rewarded for his efforts this week with a major U.S. aid package for Islamabad's armed forces and economy. Despite the reward, Musharraf used his visit to Washington to press the Bush administration to address not only the symptoms of Islamic terrorism but what he called its "root causes."

Washington, 27 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Since the attacks on America of 11 September 2001, Pakistan has emerged as a vital U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

Under President Pervez Musharraf, an army general who came to power in a 1999 coup, Pakistan has helped Washington to track and arrest members of Al-Qaeda, which the U.S. blames for the attacks. It has also assisted U.S. efforts against the Taliban, which hosted Osama bin Laden's terrorist network in neighboring Afghanistan.

This week, Musharraf was rewarded for his efforts during his fourth visit to Washington since the 11 September attacks. On 24 June, U.S. President George W. Bush hosted Musharraf at his Camp David retreat outside the U.S. capital, a distinction considered to be higher than a visit to the White House. Afterward, Bush praised the Pakistani leader. "President Musharraf is a courageous leader and a friend of the United States," Bush said.

Bush then announced a new package to help Pakistan's military and economy. "I will work with the United States Congress on a $3 billion assistance package to help advance security and economic opportunity for Pakistan's citizens," he said.

The package, to be allocated over the next five years, represents a sixfold rise over the current yearly aid level of $100 million. It will be linked to an annual review of Pakistani cooperation in the war on terrorism, as well as controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology and progress toward democracy.

The aid does not include a deal to provide F-16 fighter jets. Pakistan bought 28 of them in the early 1990s, only to see the deal fall apart because of concerns over the country's nuclear program. Musharraf expressed hope that the jets can still be acquired.

Pakistan used to be one of the largest recipients of U.S. assistance, but that was cut off when it built nuclear weapons in the early 1990s. Analysts say the new increase in U.S. aid is intended to bolster a key ally in the war on terrorism, an ally that is also vulnerable to the influence of domestic Islamic extremism.

After Musharraf banned some of Pakistan's traditional secular political parties from elections last fall, a coalition of Islamic parties running against the government's support of the U.S. war on terrorism did surprisingly well in some areas, such as the northwest frontier near Afghanistan.

The Islamic forces have since sought to pass laws to conform with their strict interpretation of Islam, even though Pakistan has always been considered a moderate Muslim country.

Yesterday, Islamists who head the council running in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, said they have banned the "unnecessary" depiction of women in advertisements, calling the practice "obscene and vulgar."

The rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan has been getting media coverage in America recently. Robert Solomon was asked about that on 25 June when Musharraf gave a speech at the organization's Washington headquarters. Solomon is president of the U.S. Institute for Peace, a nonpartisan institution created by Congress to promote the peaceful resolution of international conflicts.

"Pakistan's cooperation in rounding up the remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban has been quite significant. Yet many thoughtful observers fear that Pakistan itself may be in danger of what some have called creeping Talibanization," Solomon said.

Despite Washington's generosity, Musharraf did not shy away from offering a critique of the U.S. war on terrorism.

Although he praised Pakistan's friendship with the U.S., Musharraf said the Muslim world is growing more and more alienated by a U.S. foreign policy that focuses almost exclusively on the "hard power" of military might rather than the "soft power" of persuasion and diplomacy.

From Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, and Palestine to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kashmir, Musharraf said most of the world's key conflicts involve Muslims in some way. He said Muslims have been particularly disaffected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which has led to two effects.

"The Muslim world has started thinking that their religion, Islam, is being targeted. And on the other side, the second effect it has created is that the non-Muslim world -- the West and the United States -- has started thinking, the people have started perceiving Islam to be a religion of terrorism, fundamentalism, extremism, intolerance. I feel both are wrong. And I don't at all agree with this concept of 'clash of civilizations,'" Musharraf said.

But Musharraf said that until the West, led by the U.S., resolves these various "political disputes" involving Muslims, Islamic terrorism will continue unabated. He urged the U.S. to take the lead in resolving the disputes over Palestine and Kashmir, in particular.

But some experts say Musharraf's analysis is a little self-serving. Stephen Cohen, a former senior U.S. policymaker, is a leading U.S. expert on South Asia who is now with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. Cohen told RFE/RL that Islamic extremism is being fueled by more than sundry political disputes around the world. He says bad governance in Muslim nations is mostly to blame, Pakistan included.

"States themselves have fostered radical Islam for political purposes. In fact, Pakistan used radical Islamic groups for various purposes. And secondly, some states or individuals in some states -- especially Saudi Arabia and the Middle East -- have fanned Islamic extremism as a matter of ideology. This stuff has been paid for and supported for years now, lavishly, by a few states. So that's helped increase the Islamic radicalism all around the world," Cohen said.

But Musharraf also said the Muslim world has a bit of soul-searching of its own to do. He said Islamic countries are in crisis. Do they seek a way out through "extremism, confrontation, and militancy," or by acknowledging that Muslims "are the most backward, we are the most uneducated, the most illiterate, maybe the poorest" people in the world?

He said Muslims should eschew extremism and embrace education, health care and material well-being. "Quite clearly, to my mind, the path forward, as I say, is the path forward of moderation. And that is the way the Muslims can emancipate themselves. The path forward is a path of enlightened moderation for the Islamic world," Musharraf said.

In an interview with "The Washington Post," Musharraf extended his criticism of the Bush administration to Afghanistan, where he said U.S. policy has left warlords in control in most provincial capitals.

To remedy that, Musharraf said he urged Washington to seek to double the size of international stabilization forces in Afghanistan. But there has been no sign from the administration, or other countries, of a willingness to take that challenge on.

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