Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf came to Weill Medical College in New York City last night to discuss the evolution of U.S.-Pakistani relations and to examine Pakistan’s leading role in the war on terror.
Drawing on themes from his new memoir In the Line of Fire, Musharraf highlighted the significance of the role of Pakistan in the current global climate and pointed to the emergence of a democratic Pakistani state as a positive sign for the future.
Musharraf spoke in Weill’s Uris Auditorium to an audience that included Cornell President David Skorton, a sizable delegation of Pakistani representatives, and a busload of Cornellians.
His lecture focused on Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S. in the war on terror, an alliance that has alienated the Pakistani leader from extremist elements in his own country. Musharraf placed Pakistan at the center of the war, underscoring the unique and important perspective that Pakistan brings to the conflict.
“We are playing the lead role in fighting terror,” Musharraf said, “because Pakistan is the only country which understands terrorism in its entire complexity.”
The complexity of terrorism, Musharraf continued, is underscored by the difference between the Taliban on one hand, and what Musharraf called “Talibanization” on the other. “Talibanization,” he explained, is indoctrination of extremism into the Muslim community. The Pakistani leader argued that the teachings of extremism must be combated with the same determination as the war against the extremists themselves.
”There is a necessity of leading non-Taliban like the Pashtuns of Afghanistan away from the Taliban, aside [from] combating the Taliban itself,” Musharraf added.
In fact, he claimed, reliance on the military may not be the answer at all.
“This is a time for brain more than brawn,” Musharraf said. “The military is not the ultimate solution.”
Instead, Musharraf argued, terrorism should be combated at its root causes: the poverty of the Muslim world and the marginalization of the Muslim community.
Describing Pakistan as the leading player in the war on terror, Musharraf claimed a commitment to both a military conflict against the Taliban and a war against poverty in his own country.
Explaining Pakistan’s role in the war on terror, Musharraf charted the evolution of U.S.-Pakistan relations, beginning with a comment that after the fall of the Berlin Wall relations were at an all-time low.
“Everyone left us high and dry,” he said.
After 9/11, with Pakistan playing a major role in global affairs, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship began to improve.
“At the government level, U.S.-Pakistani relations are good,” Musharraf asserted. “There’s communication at every level.”
Improved relations at the level of government, though, have not necessarily translated to the level of the people.
As Musharraf continued to explain, “The common man on the street is distrustful.” That distrust has manifested itself in Pakistan in the form of three assassination attempts on Musharraf since 2003.
Still, he claimed that extremism was the exception in Pakistani society.
“Extremists are a fringe,” Musharraf said. “Pakistan is a moderate society and certainly not extremist.”
He pointed to the emergence of democracy in Pakistan as a sign that his country was moving away from radicalism.
“Pakistan is a progressive society and the most democratic country in the Muslim world,” he claimed.
The Pakistani leader cited the election of women to the Pakistani national assembly as an example of its progressiveness. Twenty-two percent of the assembly, Musharraf explained, is comprised of women, a figure unheard of anywhere else in the Muslim community.
Despite his confidence in the democratic future of Pakistan, though, he was quick to ask for patience in the establishment of a more liberal Pakistani state.
“I’m a man who wants democracy,” Musharraf said. “I am trying to ensure that a functional and sustainable democracy is introduced in Pakistan.” That goal, he added, will take time.
Musharraf’s recently published memoir cautions against the hasty introduction of a Western-style democracy in the Pakistani state. Democracy, Musharraf wrote, must be tailored to the character of an individual country. Still, he remained confident last night that democracy would succeed in Pakistan with the help of international trade and private investment.
“We need trade,” Musharraf explained, “not aid. If we want to strike at the root of poverty and eliminate poverty from Pakistan, investment is essential.”
Musharraf said that he wrote his memoir in part to encourage the world to take a second look at Pakistan. Misperceptions abound about the nature of the Pakistani nation, and he said he had hoped to correct some of those perceptions in his book.
“There are misperceptions and distortions of the highest magnitude about Pakistan,” Musharraf claimed. “I thought I could clear up those misperceptions and tell the world what Pakistan is.”
With an improved international attitude toward Pakistan, Musharraf hoped to encourage more foreign investment, increase tourism and broader international cooperation with the Pakistani nation.
Audience members found Musharraf’s talk intriguing. One student who attended, Anthony Gomez ’08, was impressed.
“He definitely has leadership skills, although some of his claims about Pakistan, in my opinion, are exaggerated,” Gomez said. “His ability to portray Pakistan as a critical ally for the U.S. was quite convincing.
For his part, Skorton expressed a willingness to join with Pakistan in the development of the Pakistani education system. In a roundtable discussion prior to Musharraf’s lecture, Skorton, the Pakistani president and representatives from both Cornell and the Pakistani government discussed the growth of higher education in Pakistan and the possibility for future growth in the education system.
“We believe in the diplomatic power of educational change,” Musharraf explained.
When he invited colleges and universities in the West to participate in that change, Skorton seemed to oblige.
“We are interested in a partnership with Pakistan,” Skorton said.
In fact, as Antonio Gotto, dean of the medical school, explained, Cornell has already taken a role in higher education in the Muslim world, establishing a medical school in Qatar in association with Weill in New York City.
“[For] students in Qatar,” Gaudo said, “their grades are indistinguishable from students in the U.S. Their performance shows you can implement an American curriculum in another country.”
Musharraf’s speech was followed by a brief question and answer session and a short reception at the medical school. His appearance concluded a weeklong tour of the U.S., including a joint press conference with President George W. Bush.