Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Taliban more dangerous now than al Qaeda: Musharraf

Reuters - 12 September 2006

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf warned the West on Tuesday that Taliban insurgents were a more dangerous terrorist force than al Qaeda because of the broad support they have in Afghanistan.

On a visit to Brussels, Musharraf defended his commitment to counter-terrorism in the face of some critical questioning from lawmakers in the European Parliament who also took him to task on human rights and restrictions on political opponents.

He won support though from the European Union's executive Commission, which praised Pakistan's help in foiling terrorist plots and pledged a "substantial" increase in development funds for education and rural development from next year.

Speaking five years after al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on the United States and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, Musharraf told EU lawmakers Taliban fighters had regrouped in southern Afghanistan.

"The center of gravity of terrorism has shifted from al Qaeda to the Taliban," he said. "This is a new element, a more dangerous element, because it (the Taliban) has its roots in the people. Al Qaeda didn't have roots in the people."

Musharraf said he was certain Taliban fighters were being commanded by former Taliban ruler Mullah Omar from a base in southern Afghanistan, where NATO troops are struggling to contain an insurgency.

He rejected criticism that Pakistan was not doing enough to prevent the Taliban from mounting attacks on NATO troops by infiltrating its porous borders with Afghanistan.


"NO ONE SHOULD BLAME US"

"No one should blame us or doubt us for not doing enough," he said, adding that Pakistan had deployed 80,000 troops on its side of the border to tackle militant Islamists.

Musharraf urged the world to do more to rebuild Afghanistan and later after meeting European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called on the European Union to grant greater market access for Pakistani products.

"With trade our industry expands and creates jobs and when it creates jobs it strikes at the root of poverty and also strikes at the root of extremism and terrorism," he said.

Barroso praised Pakistan for helping foil the British airline bomb plot in August and said the two sides had agreed to step up ties, although he gave no figure for the enhanced aid.

"The European Union greatly appreciates Pakistan's role in acting against terrorist networks," Barroso said.

The EU president also said Musharraf had given "encouraging signals" regarding a readmission agreement the Commission has been seeking for illegal migrants.

Among the critics of Musharraf in parliament were British conservatives, who accused him of putting the lives of British troops in Afghanistan at risk by failing to be tough enough on extremists based in Pakistan.

"President Musharraf talks the talk on terror but is failing to walk the walk, said lawmaker Charles Tannock.

Tannock said a deal Musharraf had signed with pro-Taliban Islamist militants in a tribal zone bordering Afghanistan gave "a safe haven and effective amnesty for insurgents."

He also questioned why Musharraf had failed to close religious schools seen as breeding grounds for extremists and expel foreign students enrolled in them.