|NEW YORK, Sept. 22 (APP) -- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called President Pervez Musharraf a “remarkable” leader who is combatting terrorism and extremism as he tries to strengthen Pakistan. “(I) think he’s a remarkable figure and he’s making a difference,” she said while answering questions at a meeting with the weekly Time Magazine Editorial Board. The interview took place on Monday while the secretary of state was attending UN general Assembly.
Referring to the ways in which Pakistan had changed after 9/11, and that included the rapprochement between Islamabad and New Delhi, Rice said, “Pakistan is an interesting case because, yes, it is not 100 per cent where we would like it to be in terms of democratic development or having rooted out extremism but if you look at where it was four years ago and where it is now, it is night and day.” Looking at the trends in Pakistan, she noted, “...in this case, you have somebody who, I think, has made a principled decision to rid Pakistan of its extremist elements and of the extremism that started to grip that country when it became a transit point for jihadists at the time of the Afghan war.” She added that it was very close to destabilising the country and possibly leading to a “Talibanized Pakistan.”
Rice noted how the A.Q. Khan network was selling centrifuge technology to all kinds of people, a ring that had now been shut down. She also recalled how India and Pakistan were on the verge of war. “Four years ago, I will never forget Christmas 2001 on the phone with Colin Powell and Jack Straw (British foreign secretary), and David Manning (foreign policy advisor to Blair) trying to figure out who was going to visit from Great Britain or the US so that they wouldn’t go to war between India and Pakistan. “Now, you have an Indian-Pakistani rapprochement in large part because Musharraf has taken a stand against extremism. You know, it’s a very different picture and so I think he’s a remarkable figure and he’s making a difference.” Responding to a question on Pakistan not allowing US forces on its soil even to track down Osama bin Laden, Rice countered the idea that President Musharraf did not have the political will to catch the terrorist ring leader. It was difficult to catch Osama bin Laden because of the tough terrain, she contended.
“It is a tribal area, we assume, where until the last year or so, Pakistani forces had never gone and now there are tens and thousands of them up there and it’s having an effect on the apparatus, but precisely where Osama bin Laden has been, I don’t know. “So I don’t think it’s a lack of effort, or a lack of will, or a lack of desire that has made it difficult to find Osama bin Laden... But do the Pakistanis want to find him? Absolutely, particularly Musharraf who they tried to assassinate twice.”
“We have helped and enhanced their capabilities through assistance and through cooperation, and I think what they are probably better suited to this task than American forces would likely be.” Rice also said the Al-Qaeda network had been pursued “very aggressively by the Pakistanis” and “I think they are going to continue to do it”. The US secretary of state blamed the predominantly anti-American stance of the Pakistani public on the decades of extremist propaganda, the madrassas, satellite TV and said, “It’s also the case the Pakistanis felt abandoned by the US after the Afghan war and they have some reason to have felt exactly that.” She praised Musharraf and his education minister for pursuing an enlightened policy of reform of madrassas and the public school system curriculum.