BRUSSELS, Sept 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf today warned that, if not checked effectively, the recent resurgence of the Taliban could spill over into a Pashtun "national war" against outside forces.
Speaking in Brussels, Musharraf said the Taliban now present a greater threat to the world than Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and suggested that the West may have missed a shift in the "center of gravity" of terrorism, from Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda to the Taliban.
The Taliban, who are ethnically Pashtun, form the backbone of the insurgency that is currently engaging NATO's forces in pitched battles in the south of Afghanistan.
Musharraf said today that although bin Laden remains "important," the Taliban is now the "real danger."
Addressing the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels, Musharraf said that "the real danger...lies in the emergence and further strengthening of the Taliban, because they have the seeds of converting and drawing the population to them and converting this into a national war by the Pashtuns against maybe all foreign forces."
The Pashtuns straddle the largely porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is thought to have found refuge on the Pakistani side of the border, where Pashtun tribes have proven largely impervious to central government's attempts to assert control.
Musharraf argued that although the "vast majority" of Pashtuns are moderate Muslims, the Taliban resurgence carries with it a real threat that they may become radicalized. The Taliban, he said, must be "fought with force," echoing NATO's own calls to member nations to contribute more troops to Afghanistan.
The Taliban's 'Center Of Gravity' Is In Afghanistan
Musharraf rejected charges that Pakistan might be fomenting the mobilization of the Taliban on its side of the border.
"We don't want Talibanization in Pakistan," he said, and said nobody should cast "aspersions that maybe the government or our intelligence organizations are abetting in such activity."
Stressing the need "to check 'Talibanization,' this obscurantist concept, from spreading," he said that "the battle, if it is to be won, has to address the center of gravity of the force -- and the center of gravity lies in Mullah Omar and his command echelon, which happens to be in southern Afghanistan."
According to Musharraf, Mullah Omar has not visited Pakistan since 1995.
For Pakistan's part, Musharraf said the Taliban goes against the country's largely moderate "national ethos." He said the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis -- as well as his government -- reject its fundamentalist ideology.
Musharraf said his recent visit to Afghanistan had dispelled many doubts on the part of his hosts. But he admitted that although Pakistan's intentions could not be doubted, its ability to eliminate the threat may be a different matter.
The Pakistani president said a recent peace deal with Pashtun elders in Waziristan represents one step in a strategy designed to win over the local community by giving them autonomy on civilian matters.
He said the agreement rests on the assumption that the Pashtuns in Pakistan will not permit the Taliban or Al-Qaeda to be active on their territory or to cross into Afghanistan.
A U.S. military vehicle damaged by insurgents near Kandahar (epa)
HOMEGROWN OR IMPORTED? As attacks against Afghan and international forces continue relentlessly, RFE/RL hosted a briefing to discuss the nature of the Afghan insurgency. The discussion featured Marvin Weinbaum, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and RFE/RL Afghanistan analyst Amin Tarzi.
LISTENListen to the entire briefing (about 83 minutes):
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