- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

It was a fearful President Pervez Musharraf who went before his people in Pakistan yesterday, pleading for their support. Walking the tightrope between strong action by the United States if he didn't cooperate and violent action by Pakistani extremists loyal to the Taliban if he did, he steered clear of any definite message one way or the other. While the White House accepted the speech as an indication of a sound Pakistani-U.S. relationship, the administration ought to demand a much stronger commitment.
While the speech was meant to explain his decision to help U.S. forces capture Osama bin Laden, Mr. Musharraf had a strange way of expressing it, juxtaposing his fear of being left out of the broad U.S. coalition against terrorism with his warm feelings toward the Taliban:
"Some people, some countries have very happily offered their military facilities to America. They have happily offered all their resources, and they are happy for Pakistan to be declared a terrorist state … And I want to say to these countries, 'Lay off!' " he said.
"I really worked hard for the Taliban. But I'm very sad to say that no friend of mine, no country listened to me. And even now, even in this tragedy, I am trying to negotiate … And at this point, I'm telling America that whatever they do, whatever their worries are, that they must show some balance."
Perhaps his people sensed his fear, or perhaps it was his mixed message that drew the majority of Pakistanis out against their leader. In a poll published yesterday by Reuters, nearly two out of three Pakistanis were against joining the U.S. coalition that would hunt down Osama bin Laden or attack Afghanistan. Pakistan's main religious organization, the Pakistan Ulema Council, has called for a holy war against America if we attack Afghanistan.
Mr. Musharraf warned against such extremism and pleaded that the safety of the country, its peace and security, its nuclear capabilities and its hopes for Kashmir could be harmed if Pakistan makes the wrong decision. He is right. Now is the chance for Pakistan to prove whether it is with or against the United States.
Pakistan has enjoyed favors from the United States and has been asking for more as it faces $37 billion in foreign debt. It received $3.2 billion in U.S. aid after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, when Pakistan agreed to be used as a base for anti-Soviet fighters. Pakistan has also been insisting that the United States lift the sanctions that have been placed on it since it tested its nuclear weapons. To grant such favors would be wholly unreasonable if Pakistan continues to align itself with the Taliban.
Pakistan must now decide whose side it is on the Taliban's or the rest of the world's. Mr. Musharraf did little yesterday to suggest that choice had been made.

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