Musharraf said Washington needs to pay more attention to political and economic issues that he says are the root causes of terrorism: "I think the United States needs to concentrate on the resolution of political disputes, first of all, and addressing the issue of poverty and illiteracy. These are issues which I think form the core of the causes of terrorism also."
Musharraf explained that poor and illiterate Muslims around the world have become easy targets for indoctrination by militant Islamic groups. He said that trend is fueled by the anger of many Muslims about what they see as an anti-Islamic bias by the United States.
"I think it's very important to deal with political disputes around the world," Musharraf said. "Unfortunately, all the political disputes around the world involve Muslims. And Muslims today are feeling as if Islam as a religion is being targeted. This needs to be undone."
The Pakistani president said Washington could help reverse anti-Americanism in the Muslim world by taking a position that leads to a fair, just and speedy resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"I personally feel that if we are talking of the Islamic world or [for] the views of the Islamic world to change, I think the issue [is] the political disputes. And in that, we can start with the Palestinian dispute, which must be resolved if we want to stabilize the world and create a better environment for U.S. understandings," Musharraf said.
Musharraf seized presidential power through a bloodless coup in 1999. He has retained his post as the chief of staff of Pakistan's armed forces.
Pakistan was one of the few countries that had recognized the former Taliban regime as Afghanistan's legitimate government during the late 1990s. But Musharraf dropped that support after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Since then, Washington has considered Musharraf a key ally in the war on terrorism.
After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush and senior officials in his administration said they will make "no linkage" between the war on terrorism and negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Christian Lemier, the Asia editor of a London-based journal called "Jane's Sentinel Security Assessments," noted that Washington has maintained that "no linkage" policy throughout the war on terror.
"Certainly, it is in the United States' interest to start dealing diplomatically with Islamic extremists' aims. But it is certainly not within the U.S. foreign policy at the moment to do so," Lemier said.
However, Lemier questioned Musharraf's assertion that poverty and illiteracy are a root cause of terrorism: "It's a question of whether poverty and illiteracy are really the bedrock of these disputes within some Islamic countries. In terms of South Asia and Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are a variety of different movements that want either territorial gains [or a] certain autonomy from the central government. Within Afghanistan, there is a lot of warlordism and regional commanders who are looking for power within the country. So that's not really a case of poverty and illiteracy [contributing to terrorism]."
Lemier concluded that while U.S. aid and reconstruction is useful for countries like Afghanistan, such efforts do not directly address the root causes of terrorism.