No emergency, elections on time, media must not sympathise with religious extremists: Only politico-military moderates can thwart radicals: Musharraf
* Says NWFP CM endorsed federal govt’s anti-Taliban strategy
* Govt has earned some ‘space’ for action against extremists
By Najam Sethi
ISLAMABAD: President General Pervez Musharraf hoped the general elections would return moderate forces to parliament with whom he would work to develop a greater national consensus to restore credibility to the political system and take on the forces of religious extremism. That is why, he said, the next general elections were critical for Pakistan and had to be free and fair in order for their results to be accepted as legitimate and representative of the popular will.
President Musharraf was talking to a select group of owners and editors of the print and electronic media at his Camp Office in Rawalpindi on Wednesday morning.
Asked whether he thought he was personally indispensable in the scheme of things, he suggested that no purely civilian government without the support of the military which he led as army chief could hope to effectively counter the challenge and threat of extremism in Pakistan. He insisted he had no personal ambitions to fulfill or ego to satisfy.
He also laid to rest rumours that a state of emergency might be imposed in the country so that elections could be postponed. There will be no state of emergency in the country and presidential and general elections will be held on time “as per the Constitution”, he reiterated.
President Musharraf dwelt at length on the extremist challenge facing Pakistan as a nation and asked the media to put the national interest above personal or business compulsions. Specifically, he asked media owners and editors not to allow their organs to be used for the projection of the extremists. But he also acknowledged that his own political supporters in government and the ruling alliance needed to do more to stand up and be counted on the side of the forces of moderation.
He explained how the government had exercised caution and patience in the Lal Masjid affair but then been compelled to take action. He warned that the government would not allow any more Lal Masjids and said the government had earned some “space” for action against wannabe extremists by its military operation in Islamabad.
President Musharraf made three major points regarding Talibanisation and Al Qaeda in the region. He said that Al Qaeda was on the run in the tribal areas, that the flow of Taliban from Pakistani territory to Afghanistan had been reduced and that NATO and the CIA were agreed that this was the case. However, when it was pointed out to him that on all three counts the recently released National Security Intelligence report jointly authored by over a dozen American agencies had taken exactly the opposite view on each issue, he seemed surprised. He attributed it to domestic US concerns and explained how American officials never disagreed with his prognosis in their meetings with him. At any rate, he insisted, he was duty bound to look after Pakistan’s national interest and never took dictation from any foreign power.
Nonetheless, he pointed out that the Pakistan Army was dispatching two full divisions of troops to the troubled areas and also raising new paramilitary forces to aid civil power. He explained that in National Security Council meetings the chief minister of the NWFP had fully supported the federal government’s strategic plan to put down the Taliban in the frontier regions and win hearts and minds. He implied he would continue to woo the moderate mainstream mullahs everywhere because they too were against religious extremism and violence, and thereby isolate and crush the extremists by a combination of military, political and religious moves.