By Halter, Kristel
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. 21, No. 3
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf shared his vision for the future of his country at Washington, DC's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Feb. 12.
Musharraf began by contemplating Pakistan's past. During the Cold War, he said, the U.S.-Pakistani alliance was key to containing communism. "Together we expelled the Russians from Afghanistan and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union," he said.
Thereafter, however, he continued, tensions over nuclear weapons development, Pakistan's domestic politics, and competing interests in Afghanistan strained the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. Furthermore, Musharraf said, Islamabad's involvement with the Taliban--both in aiding their rise to power and being one of three countries to recognize the regime--was frowned upon by the U.S.
The events of Sept. 11 occasioned a reevaluation of U.S. relationships around the globe, the president noted. New friendships were forged and new enemies made, he told the audience, as the U.S. forced much of the world to decide, "Are you with us or against us?"
The U.S.-Pakistani relationship became one of the most important bilateral relationships strategically, he said. Although seemingly at odds with the U.S. due to its support of the Taliban, Musharraf said, Pakistan proved instead to be one of the U.S.'s greatest friends.
Islamabad, he explained, severed relations with the Taliban, granted the U.S. access to Pakistani airspace, arrested al-Qaeda members, and cracked down on extremist groups in Pakistan and Kashmir. These steps, Musharraf said, were part of Pakistan's pledge "to make a progressive, dynamic and modern Islamic nation"--which is Musharraf's vision of Pakistan's future.
Musharraf claimed his vision already is reality, and that the difference between present and future is only a matter of degree. Those who do not see Pakistan as a progressive Islamic nation, he said, suffer from misperception. The idea that Pakistan's government is bound by its religion is a misperception, he stated. While there is a strong religious undercurrent in the country, Musharraf said, never in the history of Pakistan has any religious party won more than 5 percent of the votes. Pakistan is politically secular, he emphasized, and the perception that Pakistanis are religious extremists is an inaccurate one. …