- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

Matter of perception

The Pakistani foreign minister took only a moment to consider the question when asked why Muslims don’t appreciate the United States for saving nearly 2 million Islamic citizens from genocide in Kosovo, liberating 28 million Afghans from brutal repression under Taliban terrorists and freeing 25 million Iraqis from Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime.

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said most Muslims credit Americans for their action in Kosovo but look at the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as foreign occupations. He added that he was not expressing his personal opinion.

“Afghanistan and Iraq are perceived differently,” he said in an interview this week with this columnist and Sharon Behn, a foreign affairs correspondent for The Washington Times.

Mr. Kasuri, who was on a four-day Washington visit, said there is “a perception that the West has been unfair” to Muslims. There is also opposition to U.S. support for Israel.

“The United States was loved and admired for being what it is, and even during the Kennedy times, there was so much romance with America, the Peace Corps and a lot of idealism,” he said. “So it is not that the world is blind. The world formed its own perceptions, maybe that was shallow, but I am talking about perceptions.”

While Mr. Kasuri was in Washington, Pakistan and other Muslim countries were gripped by outrage at Britain after Queen Elizabeth II bestowed knighthood on Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses,” a book that so incensed the Islamic world that Iran’s late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a death warrant on him in 1988. Muslims accuse Mr. Rushdie of insulting the prophet Muhammad and ridiculing the Koran.

“I am surprised they would give a knighthood to Salman Rushdie. They should have expected this reaction,” he said of the British government, which compiles the annual list of candidates for knighthood.

Asked about Muslim extremism, Mr. Kasuri candidly admitted that Islam needs a reformation and cited Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who has proposed solutions to “the problems” facing their religion.

“There are, as President Musharraf described, two facets: internal reformation of the Muslim world, which includes greater focus on gender equality, science development, education; and an equally important focus on the West to help resolve the disputes in the Islamic world …,” Mr. Kasuri said.

The foreign minister held more than 40 meetings during his visit here, including talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and congressional leaders.

“I was very satisfied with the visit,” Mr. Kasuri said. “I can carry back the message that they understand the situation in Pakistan.”

The Bush administration considers Mr. Musharraf a key ally in the war against terrorism, but some U.S. analysts have criticized the Pakistan president for failing to crush Taliban holdouts that are suspected of using Pakistani territory to organize raids against Afghan and NATO forces.

Mr. Kasuri said the U.S. administration promised to help Pakistan with training and equipment to better patrol the border.

He added that Pakistani forces cannot easily identify a Pakistani from an Afghan in those tribal regions, where terrorists can cross as freely as traders.

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