UNITED NATIONS The world must confront the plague of terrorism head-on while ending conflicts in the Islamic world to eliminate the "desperation and injustice" that spawn extremism, Pakistan's president said Tuesday.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf made what appeared to be veiled references to the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq and Pope Benedict XVI's recent comments on Islam that outraged Muslims worldwide.
"Each new battleground involving an Islamic state has served as a new breeding ground for extremists and terrorists," Musharraf said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly. "Indiscriminate bombings, civilian casualties, torture, human rights abuses, racial slurs and discrimination only add to the challenge of defeating terrorism."
"Unless we end foreign occupation and suppression of Muslim peoples, terrorism and extremism will continue to find recruits among alienated Muslims in various parts of the world," he added.
The first priority should be ending "the tragedy of Palestine," Musharraf said.
"There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that this is the core of the challenge, not only to overcome the Iraq and Afghanistan problems, but also to deal with the menace of terrorism and extremism at the root," he said.
In addition, public figures should avoid making comments that exacerbate tensions, said Musharraf, in a clear reference to the pope.
Benedict has said he was "deeply sorry" over any hurt caused by a speech last week, in which he quoted a medieval text characterizing some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman" and calling Islam a religion spread by the sword.
"It is imperative to end racial and religious discrimination against Muslims and to prohibit the defamation of Islam," Musharraf said. "It is most disappointing to see personalities of high standing oblivious of Muslim sensitivities at these critical moments."
Musharraf pointed out the contributions that Pakistan has made as a key ally in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism.
"Our cooperation has pre-empted several terrorist plots, such as the one uncovered recently to blow up airliners flying from London," he said. "Al-Qaida has been significantly degraded as an organization."
But he said the world needs to do more to foster peace and stability in neighboring Afghanistan, specifically the continuing presence of over 3 million Afghan refugees along the Pakistan border.
Musharraf expressed hopes that the standoff over Iran's nuclear program can be resolved peacefully through dialogue.
"Resort to coercion and, worse, the use of force, could lead to grave consequences in the region and globally," he said.
He also made clear that despite encouraging developments in the peace process with rival India, Pakistan will not give up its own nuclear program, which he stressed was peaceful. Both Pakistan and India possess nuclear weapons.
"We do not want to enter into an arms race," Musharraf said. "But we will do whatever is necessary to preserve the credibility of our minimum defensive deterrence level."
"We cannot accept discrimination in the nuclear field," he said.