Economic talk focus: Terrorism and extremismPublished 12:26am Saturday, September 26, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Niles Daily Star
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”