WASHINGTON DC, Aug 5, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Musharraf Looks Two Ways in Extremist Fight

By Aamer Ahmed Khan

KARACHI, August 5: President Pervez Musharraf's latest crackdown on extremism, outlined in his July address to the nation, appears to have been aimed in two directions, inwards to his fellow Pakistanis and also to the rest of the world.

Most of his time was taken up with painting a picture of the country's contemporary realities - not all of which may be visible from the outside.

Perhaps what is most significant was the subtext that strongly suggests that there is little Pakistan can do to tackle its problem of extremism without active assistance and support from the outside world.

One significant departure from President Musharraf's earlier references to extremism relates to his candid admission of Pakistan's "direct or indirect" linkages to the scourge of extremism.

"No matter where something happens, we end up being directly or indirectly involved," he said. Involved, he said, and not blamed.

"It turns out that they [extremists] have either visited Pakistan or passed through it on their way to Afghanistan."

This is a marked departure from the country's existing policy of flatly denying any linkage with Islamist extremism.

Gen Musharraf then elaborated on the extremism-related realities within the country.

Between 20,000 to 30,000 Muslim militants, he said, flocked to Pakistan from all over the world during the US-backed war against the Soviets in Afghanistan through the 1980s. He said all their finances and logistics were routed through Pakistan.

"Where are they now?" he asked. "Not all could have stayed on in Afghanistan." The president let the question hang there.

If one were to assume - even if purely for the sake of argument - that many of these subsequently found their base in Pakistan, then what was the environment that greeted them?

According to President Musharraf, the fallout from the Afghan war has divided Pakistani society into roughly three categories.

There are those who subscribe to what he called orthodox Islamic thought. Then there are those that are enlightened and educated and finally there is the vast majority who have been left terribly confused about Islam by the Afghan war.

The president said that the orthodox group had for 26 years been raising funds, recruiting manpower, providing military training and spreading hate literature in aid of the extremists.

At times the extremists also draw support from Pakistan's mainstream religious parties, he said.

It is hard to avoid concluding from his remarks that the country has been providing an ideal sanctuary for Islamic extremists.

Not many are likely to find fault with the picture of Pakistan painted by General Musharraf in his address to the nation.

As the head of the Pakistan Army - an institution credited with crafting and carrying Pakistan's pro-jihad policy in Afghanistan - few know more about what goes on in Pakistan than the army chief.

What is important is how the world reacts to the problems outlined by the president. His own prescription is multi-pronged.

Gen Musharraf wants a far more dynamic role for the Organization of Islamic Conference in the affairs of the Muslim world.

He also wants active assistance and support from the West - not only in tackling extremism but also in helping many Muslim nations in the developing world out of their vicious cycles of public poverty.

But lastly, and perhaps most importantly, President Musharraf wants the West to give a deep think to the festering disputes that involve the Muslim world.

The subtext of all that he said seemed to indicate his conviction that only after the West and the Muslim world are able to resolve their disputes can the latest measures he has announced against extremism be expected to bear fruit.

The writer is a senior Pakistani journalist and wrote this analysis for the BBC World Service Web Site

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