WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has warned Muslims, particularly the Pakistani nation, not to confront the West as such a confrontation will only hurt Muslims.
Musharraf's speech, delivered at a business meeting in the Pakistani city of Lahore this week, has already caused a stir in his country where some call it "a much needed reminder of the ground realities" while others see it as another sign of the general's weakness.
Musharraf has already annoyed Pakistan's religious extremists by supporting the U.S. military offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The extremists are demanding his resignation while Pakistani intelligence agencies say that some even have vowed to assassinate the general.
According to Pakistani media, there have already been at least three attempts on his life, forcing Musharraf to take extraordinary security precautions every time he steps out of his office or official residence.
Such threats, however, do not seem to have weakened the general's resolve to confront religious extremists. Instead of toning down his criticism, Musharraf launched a verbal attack on the extremists, accusing them of "endangering Pakistan's security" for some "unrealistic" religious concepts which have little support anywhere else in the Islamic world.
The Pakistani military ruler spoke at length on the concept of the "ummah," the global community of Muslims, concluding that while it may be a very attractive concept, in reality no such thing exists.
Musharraf also warned religious extremists in Pakistan that if they did not stop their anti-American and anti-Western rhetoric, Pakistan could be the next target for a U.S. military offensive.
He reminded Muslims that they were "divided and weak," and no match for the West. Instead of talking about jihad and wars, he advised them to concentrate on providing education and health facilities to ordinary people and work with the West to achieve social and economic progress.
It was a rare speech. Normally, when a Muslim ruler addresses his nation, he starts with its glorious past and ends by painting a rosy picture of the future.
Musharraf did not. "Muslims are on the receiving end everywhere. They are divided and under-developed," said the Pakistani ruler while talking about the myth that Muslims were a strong international force.
He minced no words in exposing another symbol of Muslim strength, the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Conference that many Muslims regard as a symbol of the ummah, the concept that Muslims are one, united nation.
The OIC, the general warned, is not a formidable force and is not even united. He said two years ago, OIC was reluctant to include Kashmir, a Himalayan valley disputed between India and Pakistan since 1947, in its annual agenda as dispute that needs to be resolved.
Similarly, he said, OIC was also willing to offer membership to India, which has a large Muslim minority, and begged off only when Pakistan threatened to quit.
The two examples must be shocking for the Pakistanis who expect the so-called Islamic ummah to extend unqualified support in its disputes with India.
The general used this example to urge the Pakistanis not to get upset every time something happens somewhere in the Muslim world. "Where's the ummah that we Pakistanis are so fond of, where is the ummah that we are always willing to fight and die for," Musharraf asked his compatriots.
He then moved on to a recent declaration by Pakistani religious parties who announced they would send volunteers to fight in Iraq against the Americans if Washington attacked Baghdad.
"Don't say such things because they hurt Pakistan's interests. Think before you issue an statement, see how it hurts Pakistan's interests," said the Pakistani ruler.
Islamic groups emerged as the third largest political force in the country in last year's parliamentary elections, taking advantage of increasing anti-American feelings caused by the war in Afghanistan.
Warning the religious parties who were talking about sending volunteers to Iraq, the general said that if Pakistan was attacked tomorrow, "nobody will come to our rescue, no Muslim state, no OIC."
He reminded his audience that the United States was "very determined" to win the war against terrorism and would not tolerate any resistance to its efforts to achieve this object. The Pakistanis, he said, should make sure that they were "on the right side of the United States in this war."
In an indirect reference to reports that U.S. troops reserve the right to carry out cross-border operations while pursuing al Qaida and Taliban fugitive on the Pakistan, Afghanistan border, Musharraf said: "If in this (Pakistan's support to the U.S.-led war against terrorism), we face some minor irritants, some unpleasant incidents, we should accept them in our best national interests. We should not over-react."
Musharraf said the entire world prefers its national interests to other issues but "we in Pakistan pretend as if we are responsible for the entire Islamic world."
He said the Pakistani nation should stop pretend as "the custodian of the Islamic world" and should "stop looking for trouble" everywhere.
"Self-preservation," he said, should come before the desire to spread Islam across the world.