Pakistan's leader cites risk on Iraq
Musharraf also defends his path to democracy and warns on Kashmir.
Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf has a warning for the United States: Any attack on Iraq would likely ripple throughout the Muslim world, with potentially grave consequences for America's war on terrorism.Skip to next paragraph
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The Pakistani president, too, wants Washington to resume substantial arms sales to his country to help ensure a "balance of power" in the troubled region.
In an interview with Monitor editors, over a lunch of beef tenderloin in Boston, Mr. Musharraf also:
Worried that shifting the focus to Iraq could divert efforts to restore stability in Afghanistan.
Defended his political reforms in Pakistan as a way to allow democracy to grow without the periodic power struggles between the president and prime minister.
Dismissed reports that India and Pakistan are moving toward acceptance of a "line of control" dividing the disputed region of Kashmir.
"That is not a solution," he said, "because as we keep saying it [the line] is the problem."
The comments came Sunday at the beginning of a week-long trip to the US by the Pakistani president, here to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In the 90-minute interview, a relaxed and confident Musharraf at times even humorous said that war with Iraq risked inflaming more than the Muslim world's extremes. He said it could damage efforts to root out the Al Qaeda elements in his country and elsewhere.
Attempting to divorce his country from involvement in any attack on Iraq, Musharraf said a US-led war "will give the [extreme elements] within our domestic environment further ammunition" for agitation. He suggested the reconstruction of Afghanistan, which hasn't yet "taken off" as international donors wait for stability to be restored, could face additional uncertainty if the world becomes fixated on removing Saddam Hussein.
A year ago, General Musharraf surprised much of the world by turning against the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan, a move that led him even to dismiss some of his own generals who sympathized with the Islamist cause. At the risk of firing up a volatile minority of extremists at home, he cast Pakistan's lot with the US and the war on terrorism.
This week Musharraf visits the US confident of solid support from Bush, whom he meets with on Thursday in New York. But he faces mounting criticism at home as he moves to install what he calls "sustainable democracy" in a country with a legacy of political upheaval and strongman rule.
A four-star general who took power in a 1999 coup, Musharraf referred to himself in the interview as "unfortunately a military man and talking about democracy." He was accompanied by a coterie of aides and advisers, including Foreign Minister Inam ul Haque, who cautioned against the precedent that could be set by the international community recognizing a US doctrine of preemptive action.
"Larger countries may begin to feel they have a right to interfere in smaller countries," Mr. Haque said pointedly. "Why couldn't India take unprovoked action against Pakistan?"
Musharraf visits the US keenly aware of his critics, most vociferous in his own domestic press, who say his recent constitutional reforms leading up to October parliamentary elections consolidate his power and distance Pakistan even further from any transition to democracy.
But he also knows that he's on friendly ground in the US as long as he keeps up the fight against Al Qaeda elements in his country and other extremists focused on the dispute with India over Kashmir.
"Musharraf has clearly heard from President Bush that the war on terrorism trumps democracy at this time," says Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asia under Bill Clinton.
"The State Department is attuned to the vital role that democracy plays in retaking the political base from radical elements, but the White House and Pentagon don't really want to be bothered with that," adds George Perkovich, a South Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Their focus is, 'Are you going to deliver these guys [Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan] or not?' "
But Musharraf was the most impassioned in the interview defending his political reforms. He insisted they will allow democracy to develop without the tension between the president and prime minister that has periodically torn the country.