HOUSTON, October 19, 2010 - Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who earlier this month announced he was forming a new political party and would seek the presidency in 2013, held himself up as the only figure on the Pakistani political scene capable of delivering the country from "the darkness that it faces today."
"All the political alternatives available have been tried and failed," he told an audience of 140 at a luncheon address hosted by AsiaSociety Texas Center and the Greater Houston Partnership.
He specifically attacked former President Nawaz Sharif, the man whom Musharraf replaced in 1999 following a bloodless military coup and who is vying to return to power.
"Having taken us down the drain, he wants to take us again down the drain," Musharraf said."Therefore, like any patriotic Pakistani, I feel we must not allow that."
The 67-year-old former president offered few specifics on policies he might follow if elected, beyond promising to revive Pakistan's economy. He did provide a glimpse of his election strategy, saying he would target the 60 percent of Pakistanis who do not vote.
"This 60 percent comprises educated middle-class Pakistanis, young people, women, and ethnic minorities," he said. "If you can bring them into the political fray, even 25 percent of them, you would bring about a change in the political culture. That is what I intend doing."
Regaining power as a civilian, through election, would give him the full legitimacy he lacked the first time around, he said.
Musharraf devoted the first two-thirds of his talk not to current politics but to an uncompromising defense of his and his country's role in battling Islamic extremism in the region. "We are the victims of religious militancy, not the perpetrators," he said.
He revisited "three blunders" that he said have contributed to the terrorist threat emanating today from Afghanistan and western Pakistan. He pointed the finger of blame primarily at the United States and the West, first for arming and encouraging the mujahideen, many of them foreigners, to wage "jihad" in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupiers, a move that introduced religious militancy into that country. Worse, after the Soviets beat a retreat, the West abandoned the war-ravaged country.
"So the first blunder, in 1989, was abandoning the place without any rehabilitation or resettlement, [which] gave rise to al Qaeda and then the Taliban," he said.
He defended his decision to recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan, a move that put him at odds with the United States. In recognizing the Taliban he aimed to "change them from within." Western failure to follow that course constituted the second blunder.
Musharraf took strong issue with critics who say Pakistan has not done enough to battle al Qaeda and the Taliban. Joining the post-Sept. 11 coalition to fight terrorism was in Pakistan's self-interest, he said.
"I want to underline this because there are now expressions in the West and the United States that we are not doing enough or that our heart is not in the issue. Wrong, sir. Nobody in Pakistan would like to have Talibanization of Pakistan."
He defended his strategy of trying to "peel the Pashtuns from the Taliban" in 2002 and 2003. "It could have been easily done" had the United States embraced that approach, he said. Failure to push for a political solution when the coalition had the upper hand militarily was the third blunder.
He summarized the threats facing Pakistan today as al-Qaeda, who exist "in small numbers" in the western tribal areas; the Pakistani Taliban, who are getting bolder and spreading their brand of militancy beyond the frontier; and growing numbers of ex-mujahideen traveling to Kashmir to fight the Indian army. He also expressed concern about growing Islamic extremism among the youth in India. "The Indian government needs to look into that," he said.
He voiced concern that the United States would withdraw from Afghanistan before a stable government was in place.
"Quitting without doing that is not an option," he said. "This is my conclusion, this is what needs to be understood, so that we don't go and commit a fourth blunder which will cost our region and the world very heavily."
Reported by Fritz Lanham