- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — President Pervez Musharraf has praised Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as “courageous” for withdrawing settlers from the Gaza Strip, a sign that Pakistan is pressing ahead with new openness to the Jewish state despite outrage from Islamist hard-liners.

In an interview Friday, Gen. Musharraf said he was encouraged by Mr. Sharon’s actions, calling the creation of a Palestinian state critical to resolving a number of political disputes around the world and undercutting one of the root causes of Islamist terrorism.

Gen. Musharraf, who will meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in New York today, spoke a week after Pakistan initiated its first high-level talks with Israel in direct response to the Gaza pullout.

Held in Turkey, the meeting between foreign ministers sparked fury among Muslims who doubt Gen. Musharraf’s insistence that he will not form diplomatic ties with Israel until it allows the formation of an independent Palestine.

On Friday, Gen. Musharraf hinted that he would consider establishing relations if Israel took concrete steps toward that goal, although Pakistan has in the past taken a harder line against the Jewish state than some Arab countries.

“I can’t really give a cut line,” he said, about when formal ties could be established. “But I’m always a believer in reacting before events, of foreseeing events and reacting accordingly. … I don’t believe in reaction, I believe in action.”

He said the Gaza withdrawal demonstrated Mr. Sharon’s potential to carry out tough decisions.

“I think such actions need courage and boldness,” Gen. Musharraf said of the pullout. “What we have seen on the TV, Israelis not wanting to leave, being forced out, is a courageous thing to do.

“We hope that he shows [an] equal amount of courage finally in the creation of the Palestinian state.”

Gen. Musharraf also said Pakistan and India are optimistic about resolving their bitter dispute over the Kashmir region, and he hopes for a settlement while he and India’s prime minister are still in power.

He declined, however, to say whether this meant that he hopes for a resolution of the dispute by 2007, when his term is up. There is a simmering controversy over whether Gen. Musharraf plans to give up his post of army chief then and seek re-election as a civilian president. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s term ends in 2009.

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