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Former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf gives Convocation speech

As he explored the misconceptions that exist between the West and the Islamic world, Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan who was a key U.S. ally in its fight against the Taliban, shared his observations with students, faculty and the community on Tuesday afternoon as the keynote speaker for Fall Convocation inside Alumni Gym.

"Terrorism is a symptom,” said former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. “The issues are the cause (of that violence).”

The Oct. 12, 2010, talk included a brief history lesson on the rise of Islam, the geopolitical events of the past two centuries that have created deep tensions toward the West, and what can be done to help heal some of those rifts. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s never been a dull moment over the past 10 years,” Musharraf said of events since Sept. 11, 2001.

During his eight-year term, Musharraf championed the security and political future of his nation with high stakes for the world at large. Earlier this month he announced plans to create a new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, as part of an effort to return to power and to foster a stronger democratic culture.

His Convocation remarks, while largely historical in nature, reflected his belief that the Muslim world and the West still have a ways to go in better understanding each other.

The West, he said, views Muslims as nothing more than extremists and terrorists. Meanwhile, many millions of Muslims live in places that should have “all the ingredients” of progressive states, but their nations are in severe debt, education and literacy are in short supply, and areas are “socially backward.”

That allows the actions of a few fundamentalists to taint the image of Islam, he said. Muslims thus are profiled by Westerners who don’t recognize political frustrations that are what drive the violence. "Terrorism is a symptom,” he said. “The issues are the cause.”

Musharraf also pointed the regional conflicts in Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Kashmir and elsewhere as flashpoints of resentment for Muslims. He said the West’s responses to those conflicts, and in some instances its indifference, soured millions of people on the United States and its allies.

“In all these, the Muslims have been at the receiving end,” he said of the conflicts. “This resulted in anger and alienation in the Muslim world, in the masses of the people.”

In a word of caution to the United States, Musharraf said that recent cross-border attacks and drone attacks in Pakistan by American forces chasing terrorists is angering the Pakistani population. “The U.S. presence, the drone attacks and cross border attacks, even if they are targeting the Taliban, are not acceptable to the people of Pakistan,” he said.

Musharraf rose through the ranks of the Pakistani army and served as Pakistan’s chief executive before assuming the presidency in 2001 at a time of growing Muslim militancy.

A proponent of democracy, Musharraf set out to transform Pakistan into a progressive, moderate and prosperous Islamic state. He restructured the country’s political system to empower citizens at the grassroots level through a new local government system. He also ensured the presence of women in parliament and allowed electronic and print media to operate independently of the government.

Following the 9/11 attacks and throughout the seven years he remained in power, Musharraf became one of America’s chief allies in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. He rooted out militants in his own government and helped direct countless raids against al-Qaeda that resulted in the apprehension of more than 670 al-Qaeda members.

Believing holistic change was needed, Musharraf developed a strategy of enlightened moderation to bring harmony to troubled regions in the Middle East, a concept that was later adopted by the Islamic World for Enlightened Moderation. Since leaving the presidency in 2008 under pressure from Pakistan’s newly elected coalition government, Musharraf has traveled the world encouraging understanding of his country’s fight against extremism and its critical role in the war on terror.

Pervez Musharraf greets Toorialey Fazly, a first-year Elon University student from Afghanistan who was the victim of a hit-and-run vehicle accident in September.

He has also written a memoir, In the Line of Fire, which gives a firsthand view of the war on terror and chronicles his struggles for the security and political future of Pakistan.

Following Convocation, Musharraf met briefly with Toorialey Fazly, a first-year student from Afghanistan who was the victim of a hit-and-run vehicle accident in September that left him with a spinal injury. Musharraf wished Fazly well for a quick recovery.

The former president will be speaking Oct. 13 during a question-and-answer forum in Whitley Auditorium at 11:30 a.m.

Eric Townsend,
10/15/2010 9:03 AM