If Pakistan intends to become a credible and respected player in the international arena, it must correct its false image of an intolerant, belligerent Muslim state, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, said Wednesday to a gathering of nearly 1,800 Pakistani-Americans in D.C.‘s Mayflower hotel.
In previous years, the international community has accused Pakistan of masking its support of the Taliban and Muslim militants in Kashmir, the disputed area between India and Pakistan, behind an insincere rhetoric of peace, said Musharraf, who came to power through a military coup in 1999.
By offering the United States strategic bases near the Afghan border during the U.S. attack on the country, and in the process jeopardizing its fragile domestic stability, Pakistan proved the first of the two assertions false, declared Musharraf. “We established ourselves as a valuable ally to the United States.”
As for Kashmir, Musharraf insisted that while clandestine attacks against unarmed civilians are unlawful, the international community must recognize that the aggression stems from the grave human-rights violations indirectly sanctioned by the Indian government in the disputed territory.
In stepping forward in the war on terrorism, he is often dismissed by fellow Muslims as kowtowing to U.S. interests, Musharraf said. “I am not anyone’s supporter; I serve Pakistan first,” he assured the audience.
Despite Pakistan’s critical role in combating terrorism, the nation continues to be seen as a state that breeds fanatical Muslims, Musharraf said. The nation must respond to this public relations dilemma by educating its youth to become enlightened moderates.
Through providing quality public education, the government intends to alleviate illiteracy and unemployment. Ignorance and poverty generate a sense of unfocused resentment that can spill into violence, Musharraf said.
“We tend to people’s welfare. That is how we eradicate terrorism,” he said to a standing ovation.
The notorious “madrassas,” or religious schools, that the United States believes teach an austere and intolerant form of Islam, provide free lodging and meals for the destitute and the orphans of developing Muslim states such as Pakistan, Musharraf said.
The solution does not lie in a sweeping shutdown of these religious schools that will unleash thousands of angry and helpless youths into the streets, Musharraf argued. Rather, he said, the government hopes to supply these institutions with the proper staff, so the students may learn literature and mathematics alongside their Koranic studies.
“These men will then become engineers and educators, as well as clerics, who can earn their livelihood,” Musharraf said. “My generation will soon pass the baton to you, the next generation. Express pride in your country and consider yourselves ambassadors of Pakistan in the United States.”