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Musharraf analyzes terrorism, extremism as a man of war who desires peace

Published 9:05am Friday, September 25, 2009

Dowagiac Daily News

BENTON HARBOR – Terrorism is like leaves on a tree, Pakistan’s former president said. Even if a branch is chopped off, leaves keep growing back so long as its roots remain.

So it is with evergreen political disputes which seem irresolvable – Israel and Palestine in the Mideast, India and Pakistan in Kashmir and Russia and Chechnya.

Pervez Musharraf led off The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan’s 67th Speaker Series Thursday night at Lake Michigan College Mendel Center and had suggested Muslim countries are “double jeopardy” because the “perception” is that the West is targeting Islam by design.

Musharraf said it is also wrong to suggest that Islam “teaches terrorism.” He cited other “root causes” as poverty and illiteracy fueling  ongoing political disputes.

Eve Phillipson of Dowagiac brought out in the 15 questions Musharraf answered that in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia, the United States fought on the same side as Muslims.

Musharraf, who as Pakistan president for seven years from 2001 to 2008, held what Time magazine called “the most dangerous job in the world,” survived two assassination attempts in the war on terror against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

And no, he said of Osama bin Laden, “I really don’t know if he’s dead or alive” eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

He said Pakistan’s greatest enemy is not the West, but whether it is India or the Taliban shifts as threats change. “We will not allow Pakistan to be treated like Lebanon,” he said. “We will never compromise on our security. Cover our backs.”

Musharraf offered his unique perspective on “the most important issue confronting” the world, his region in South Asia and Pakistan itself – terrorism and extremism. They are “inextricably linked,” he said, defining the latter as a “state of mind” against an invisible enemy.

Victory in Pakistan is “imperative” if  the West is to prevail over extremism and terrorism, he said, and solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict would help diffuse radicalism in the Muslim world.

Though terrorism has been a problem throughout history, Musharraf said, the destructive power of explosives coupled with the “new dimension” of indoctrinated young suicide bombers makes the ramifications of LDCs (low-density conflict) “very serious.”

Pakistan is a “victim,” not a “perpetrator,” Musharraf asserted, adding he is “eminently qualified” to speak on terrorism and extremism.

It is clear that targeting innocent people is terrorism.

“There is no justification whatsoever (acting) against civilians,” he said to applause.
Musharraf, who pursued a vision of transforming Pakistan, a nuclear state, into a progressive, moderate, prosperous Islamic state, said 22 percent of the National Assembly is now female.

Musharraf said suicide bombers, most often very young and ignorant teen boys, believe they are “opening the way” to heaven for their families.

Their faith is that they will arrive in heaven to “VIP treatment.”

However, he acknowledged, 9/11, the London subway and Mumbai attack plotters didn’t fit the poor, illiterate profile.

But they felt alienated from society and deprived of political justice.

Those feelings could be exploited by ideological indoctrination.

Analyzing the battlefield on three levels of international, region and domestic, the former general outlined a long-term strategy of enlightened moderation and, in military terms, a “double pincer” with Muslims from one side and the United States from the other.
Both pincers must succeed, Musharraf said, turning to the United Nations.

In developing nations, he said, debt liabilities need to be written off to clear the road ahead of economic malaise. The UN could help “shore up” the third world and hasten the amelioration of poverty.

Many unscrupulous leaders plunder their own countries, he said, but stash their loot in Western banks. The UN should help put a stop to this and return these assets to developing nations.

Musharraf identified three distinct periods in the last 30 years.

The first, 1979-1989, is when U.S. and coalition forces helped fan a jihad, or holy war, “from Morocco to Indonesia,” including the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the training of the Taliban.

Afghanistan’s four ethnic groups had agreed to be held together under the king, but the Soviets installed a puppet regime.

Educated elites fled Afghanistan and left it to mujahideen and oppressive militants.
In the second period, the 12 “years of disaster” from 1989 to 2002, the United States left Afghanistan “high and dry” to “warlordism.”

Mujahideen fighters “armed to the teeth” eventually “coalesced” into al Qaeda.

He said the first “blunder” came in not resettling these warriors before the Taliban came in 1996 and seized control of 90 percent of the country.

Musharraf recalled telling President Bill Clinton in 2000 that the United States should join Pakistan in opening missions in Afghanistan, too. That move would have moderated the Taliban and saved Buddha statues that were smashed.

But “I was all alone” in his way of thinking and bin Laden was able to move in.
Twenty years ago, in 1989, the Kashmir freedom struggle raged on Pakistan’s eastern border. Four million refugees surged in, fraying his country’s social fabric.

India and Pakistan have been on a “confrontation course” since the 1940s, Musharraf said, with each hurting the other, including one “wing” being “chopped off” that became Bangladesh.

The third time frame Musharraf delineates as “2001 and beyond,” when war on terror retaliation chased the Taliban and al Qaeda into Pakistan.

They captured 600 to 700 cities, including the capital, Islamabad, which Pakistan has since “cleaned up,” he said.

Al Qaeda “has gone down,” its numbers reduced, but has been offset by the “resurgence” of the Taliban, which had been defeated after 9/11.

This represents another “blunder,” in his analysis. The Taliban is all Pashtun in makeup, but not all Pashtuns are Taliban. Pashtuns were “pushed” to the Taliban.

Musharraf articulated a “three-pronged strategy”: using the military to “speak from strength” while buying time to craft political solutions. In particular, a “homegrown political solution.”

As a military strategist, he always sees “spaces” where he wants to operate.

U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, conversely, are too “diluted” for the area to contain. He said he endorses the analysis given to President Obama by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to send additional troops to Afghanistan.

As Pakistan confronts terrorism and extremism, al Qaeda is concentrated in the seven “tribal agencies” along the mountainous frontier, which one audience member likened to the “wild, wild west,” and Musharraf agreed it was somewhat like a “cowboy movie.”
“National will is certainly there,” he said, crediting “Talibanization” for lining up the people’s support behind the army. Violence in the Swat Valley turned most ordinary Pakistanis against the Taliban.

It’s important to remember, the general said, that al Qaeda is “not jumping around all over” Pakistan, but confined to a certain area and diminished to a size smaller than the Taliban, “our own people in Pakistan.”

Musharraf denied the existence of rogue extremist elements within Pakistan’s intelligence services, blaming the perception of dissension on certain Western interests and the media.
Musharraf explained how the Taliban is not a “monolith” with a unified command structure that can be captured or “eliminated.” Osama bin Laden is more likely a “symbol” than a leader sending specific directives.

He said India has a problem with extremism among its youth.

“We must not behave like ostriches,” he said, and let linkages develop between India and Pakistan, but “break this nexus.” That’s the “complexity of this situation.”

“We must trust Pakistan” as an ally in the global war on terror, he said, because they are fighting terrorism in their own interest – not the United States’.

“We must back up Pakistan and encourage Pakistan,” its army and intelligence because there is no alternative to succeeding.

He bristled at U.S. desires to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty to flush out bin Laden and his confederates.

He reminded Americans that with their military presence already “diluted,” it could lead to “disaster.”

Americans and their allies possess no “magic wand” and could become “bogged down” when Pakistan is better equipped for such an undertaking.

Instead, he favors “closer tactical cooperation.”

At the first meeting of the 2009-2010 season, President Michael Cook defended the club’s conservative-leaning lineup as offering the largest number of members’ highly requested speakers, a list led by 2008 vice presidential nominee and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

“It’s your fault” for voting Republicans from office and onto the lecture circuit, Cook joked, although former First Lady Laura Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney were term-limited after eight years at the White House.

Cook stressed that the Economic Club “espouses no particular cause” and strives to be “broadminded,” but also mindful that whichever administration is out of power tends to dominate the speakers, recalling former Clinton administration figures who visited for “staunch Democrats” who apparently grumbled about this roster, which also includes New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman and Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo.

Cook also acknowledged critics who advocate the club should not invite “immoral” speakers – a “tough call” for officers.

Cook indicated the club prefers to invite “thought makers” of all persuasions and let members decide for themselves.

If they still object to a particular speaker, he counseled, listening could be a chance to “learn what the enemy is planning.”

Cook, an attorney with two degrees from the University of Notre Dame, defended his own broadmindness by noting that Izzo, consistently one of the most requested speakers, will be featured at the next program Oct. 12 even though he is entering his 15th year with the Spartans.

Musharraf’s entry was greeted by a standing ovation.

The general, saluting as he made his way through the throng to his podium, was accompanied by his wife. He wore a navy blue suit, light blue shirt and blue tie and delivered his remarks in English, referring to the club a couple of times as “this august gathering.”

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