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Afghanistan: Khalilzad Hopes Response To Pakistan's 'Huge Loss' Is Renewed Effort To Counter Extremism

The assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto prompted quick international condemnation, as well as intense examination of its effect on South Asia and the rest of the world. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad gave an exclusive interview to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan within hours of Bhutto's death. Khalilzad told correspondent Zarif Nazar that her killing is a "huge loss" for moderate forces in Pakistan that underlines the importance of fighting against Islamic extremists and insurgents.

RFE/RL: What is your reaction to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto?

Khalilzad: It is an enormous tragedy for Pakistan and the whole region. Those forces that do not support these countries' success eliminated a moderate person who stood for democracy and the rule of law in her country and supported regional cooperation. It was an attack on moderate forces, [and] it was an attack against democracy, and the rule of law in Pakistan. This is a huge loss. I knew Mrs. Bhutto personally. She was an intelligent and brave woman who loved her country and ultimately sacrificed her life for her country. She knew she was risking her life. Her children and her husband were abroad, they told her not to go [to Pakistan] but she decided to return and serve her country. She knew that terrorists and extremists have been posing threats to her country and the whole region. She sacrificed herself and this is a tragedy for Pakistan, the region and the world.

RFE/RL: Bhutto was a leading politician and someone who could have possibly brought stability to Pakistan. Additionally, the United States reportedly supported her return to Pakistani politics. Is her death going to be a huge blow in the campaign against Islamic extremists, which is so strongly supported by Washington?

Khalilzad: This is a huge blow, firstly, for Pakistan; secondly, for the region; and, thirdly, for the whole world. Because it would be beneficial to the whole world to have Pakistan and the region free of terrorism and extremism.

Unfortunately, terrorism and extremism are still strong in the region and the threats that Benazir Bhutto faced could still exist for other people. But I think extremists will be defeated in the end. The same thing happened in Iraq, where people eventually became tired of extremists and the people of Iraq finally rose up against terrorism and extremism. I have been in Iraq personally. In the beginning, some Sunni Muslims in Iraq cooperated with terrorists and extremists to some extent. But eventually people realized that these forces kill women [and] children, and engage in violence and brutality. Today [Sunni Muslims in Iraq] are distancing themselves from these elements.

I think the same will happen in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the areas where terrorists and extremists are now based, people will eventually stand up against them. Because people will realize that terrorists have no programs to solve the region's problems, they have no program to solve economic, political, or regional problems; they only engage in killings and keep the region and people [from progressing].

I hope that Mrs. Bhutto's sacrifice -- which, unfortunately, was an enormous sacrifice for her family -- will finally result in the triumph of democracy and moderate forces. It is time for the moderate elements in the region to come together against terrorism and extremism, and the world should support these moderates. But this is a very sad day today.

RFE/RL: Mrs. Bhutto had met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on [December 27], shortly before her death, and they reportedly discussed the Afghan peace process and cooperation between the two countries. Now that Mrs. Bhutto is gone, do you see someone else in Pakistan who would cooperate with Afghanistan in an effort to bring peace and stability to the country and the region?

Khalilzad: First of all, we have to see what happens next from a security point of view. The UN Security Council has also issued a statement about security. It hopes that Pakistan will not move toward more instability and chaos. This is the priority at the moment. Secondly, it is up to Pakistan to make its political decisions and decide about the elections. It is also important to know how moderate forces in Pakistan would react to the situation. So there are many issues to be discussed and resolved.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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