- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has proposed that Muslim nations work together to end the violence in the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

The sweeping plan won the support yesterday of Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the current chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), world’s largest grouping of Islamic states.

Gen. Musharraf, who began his diplomatic push with a surprise visit to Indonesia on Wednesday, met with Mr. Abdullah later that night and again yesterday.

Later, both men spoke in support of the idea of bringing Muslim nations together to come up with a new approach to a range of problems bedeviling the Islamic world.

The initiative comes amid other signs that Muslim leaders are becoming more interested in grappling with Islamic extremism and growing tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites, which have been aggravated by the rise of Iran and sectarian strife in Iraq.

Senior diplomats from Saudi Arabia and Iran have exchanged visits in recent weeks, seeking to head off the threat of a Sunni-Shi’ite war that could engulf the region.

There have also been signs of renewed interest in an Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal first put forward by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the Arab League.

“This is a process of consultation toward a fresh initiative,” said Gen. Musharraf, whose trip to two of Asia’s biggest Muslim nations was wrapped both in secrecy and surprisingly light security. Gen. Musharraf has survived at least three assassination attempts since he brought Pakistan into the U.S.-led war on terrorism in 2001.

“There’s no harm in adopting a new approach and trying for success,” he added. “At the moment … things are deteriorating, worsening. What one can try is to convert this downward slide towards upward momentum, towards resolution of disputes.”

Gen. Musharraf has been calling for an early settlement of the Palestinian dispute as part of efforts to combat extremism in the Muslim world, calling the dispute the “root cause” of terrorism and extremism. He has urged the major powers, including the United States and Britain, to help resolve it.

Malaysia’s leader said he hoped Gen. Musharraf’s efforts would lead to a meeting of Muslim nations where the causes of Middle East conflicts could be discussed and new strategies devised.

But Mr. Abdullah noted that, so far, efforts within the OIC, which contains 57 Muslim nations — as well as in the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab League — had failed to bring about an improvement in the Middle East’s trouble spots.

“The situation continues to be at a stage of great concern for us and violence seems to escalate instead of stopping,” said Mr. Abdullah, standing beside Gen. Musharraf at a hotel south of Kuala Lumpur.

“It is my hope, as it is his hope, that we will be able to meet in a bigger group and examine further the causes and the reasons and whatever that is associated with the Middle East situation,” Mr. Abdullah added.

Gen. Musharraf has not elaborated on the grouping of “like-minded” Muslim nations that he is trying to assemble, although he has said King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is being consulted.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said after meeting the Pakistani leader Wednesday that to achieve peace in the Middle East, “we need to achieve greater dialogue and consultation and a role of like-minded Islamic countries.”

He added that Indonesia would hold an international meeting of Muslim clerics to discuss conflicts in the Islamic world.

Last week, a Jakarta official said Indonesia wanted to hold a special meeting with Hamas this year aimed at helping end internal rifts between the Palestinian ruling group and other factions. Mr. Yudhoyono made no mention of this Wednesday.

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