- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Pakistan’s ambassador said yesterday the U.S. push for democracy is forcing countries around the world to re-examine their governmental and human rights practices and that Pakistan too will be strongly affected.

Jehangir Karamat also rejected the notion that democracy was incompatible with Islam, and told editors and reporters at a luncheon interview at The Washington Times that Osama bin Laden has struck a blow against all Muslims.

President Bush’s democracy initiative, he said, had started a discernible trend “in the Middle East, in fact all over the world, to get your act together as far as your human rights, freedom and so on are concerned.”

Countries allied with or dependent on the United States should “look at that trend very carefully and not get into a situation where you are getting isolated because you are not conforming to what is happening around you,” he said.

With democratic structures being established in Afghanistan and the latest protest movements shaking governments in Central Asia, it was inevitable that Pakistan would be affected, he said.

Mr. Karamat also said anti-Western leaders like bin Laden had lost their appeal as the political and economic situations began to turn around in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I think there is also the realization that [bin Laden] delivered a very serious blow to Islam. He started a situation nobody in his right mind would want,” Mr. Karamat said.

In Afghanistan, he said, a large number of the Taliban members who once backed bin Laden had gone back to their families and homes.

The hard-core Taliban leaders who once welcomed “Arab leadership and guidance” are finished, he said. “If there are any remnants, they are insignificant.”

He said Pakistani troops were no longer combing the border region for bin Laden, but remained in the region and were responding to any leads from the intelligence services.

Mr. Karamat welcomed a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan — where warlords still threaten to destabilize the country — as well as Washington’s strategic relationships with both Pakistan and India.

The United States late last week announced it was selling F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, while offering India considerable defense capabilities, boosting New Delhi to the level of a major world power.

The news sparked criticism in India, which said the F-16s would upset the balance of power in the region.

“India should realize Pakistan is not in an arms race with India. Pakistan is only into selective upgradation of capabilities that will give it enough strength to deter violence against it,” Mr. Karamat said.

“The F-16 gives us the capability of not allowing total supremacy of our airspace by any aggressor and gives us the capability to take out targets which may be a problem to us,” he said.

Mr. Karamat also said the mood on the Pakistani street toward the United States had changed in the past four years.

Anti-U.S. protests are now sporadic, he said, and in fact had never reached the intensity President Pervez Musharraf’s government had expected when it decided to back U.S. military action in Afghanistan.

“There is a comprehension of a strategic change in Pakistan, and that now Pakistan has to cope with the consequences of this strategic change,” he explained.

“I don’t think we see the U.S. as a threat, primarily because even if it was a threat, there is really not much you can do.”

Even with growing international pressure to become more democratic, Mr. Karamat said Mr. Musharraf’s decision to remain both as head of the military and the president was necessary to maintain stability in Pakistan.

“That gives him enough power … to be able to take some of the very difficult decisions as we move” toward parliamentary elections in 2007. “I tend to see that as a sort of watershed in our move toward democracy,” he said.

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