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Pakistan should engage with the Trump administration: Pervez Musharraf

14 April, 2017

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WASHINGTON: Former president Pervez Musharraf urged Pakistan on Thursday to engage with the Trump administration as the change in Washington presents Islamabad with an opportunity to improve its relations with the United States.

Addressing the launching ceremony of a report on US-Pakistan relations, Mr Musharraf noted that the Trump administration had come to power with “a clean slate” and a “very positive” attitude and was eager to understand the complexities of the issues it confronts in various parts of the world.

“We need to engage with the new government and project our point of view in a better way,” said the former Pakistani ruler who seems to have more supporters in Washington than in Pakistan as a large crowd showed up to hear him. The organisers, the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, had to turn back many as they did not have enough space.

Mr Musharraf urged Pakistani rulers to project their views on issues like the situation in Afghanistan, the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda and the complexities of India-Pakistan relations.

“The Trump administration will show better understanding of our views on these issues, if we project them effectively,” he said.

The retired general asked the US government also to appreciate the challenges that today’s multi-polar world presents and “understand why Pakistan had to balance its relations with China, Russia and the United States”.

Mr Musharraf said that rulers in both Islamabad and Washington needed to realise that each country had to pursue its own interests and on occasions “the United States does tend to leverage its role”. He said that while the US, being a superpower, could do this, “but the opposite is difficult as Pakistan cannot leverage its interests against those of the United States”.

But since the world was changing from being uni-polar to multi-polar, “the US too needs to adjust its strategic interests with those of emerging powers, particularly Russia and China”, he said.

The former Pakistani ruler advised Islamabad to balance its relations with China and Russia with its ties with the United States. “We need to understand that America’s relations with India are in US national interests, and as long as those do not impinge on Pakistan, this should not concern us. Similarly, the US should see our relations with China in the same context and accept it as long as it does not impinge on their interests,” he said.

Mr Musharraf noted that while the United States and its allies had defeated Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, “they failed to convert this military victory into a political victory”. He said that had they established an ethnically balanced government in Kabul, with Pashtuns as the dominant partner, the situation would have been much better. But this was not done and “this great blunder led to the resurgence of Taliban,” he added.

Responding to a question, the former general said that after the Swat operation, 75 per cent of the madressahs were registered with the government and thousands of foreign madressah students were sent back to their countries.

Noting that his government also introduced subjects that would allow a madressah student to seek employment outside the mosque, he said: “We need to mainstream madressahs and check the mosques too,” he said. “Introduce secular subjects and take action where they are teaching and preaching extremist views.”

He acknowledged that government officials in Pakistan were reluctant to act against mosques and madressahs and emphasised the need to change this mindset and to take effective action against those spreading extremist views.

Responding to another question, Mr Musharraf said that Saarc was created to promote integration in South Asia but unfortunately it was not very effective and he did not see the situation changing in the near future.

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