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Islamic Leaders In Davos Discuss Terrorism

Leaders from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan Thursday discussed ways to combat terrorism, particularly the scourge of suicide bombings. VOA's Barry Wood reports from Davos that the leaders agreed that an economic downturn can breed political turmoil.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected the notion that there is a link between religion and the wave of suicide bombings in his part of the world. Rather, he said, suicide bombings are criminal activities that must be vigorously combated.

"It has actually become a business, unfortunately, in certain cases," Karzai said. "For all of us. They use drug addicts. They use people who are terminally ill and very, very poor. They go to the family and say they need the man, who's going to die anyway. We'll pay you a certain amount of money. And he will be blown up and he will go to heaven."

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih presented a different perspective. He said the there is a religious component to terrorism.

"As a Muslim I would say there are efforts by extremists to hijack my religion," Salih said. "My understanding of Islam is that of tolerance, that of peace, respect for human life and dignity. Yet there are people who justify slaughtering innocent people in the name of Islam and in the name of Allah. Definitely, there is a need for reforming the religious establishment and making sure that the religious establishment throughout the Islamic world will stand up (against suicide bombings)."

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, now a U.S. ally in the war on extremist groups, has often been accused by Mr. Karzai of not doing enough to shut down sanctuaries for Taliban fighters in Pakistan's tribal region along the border with Afghanistan. He rejected that criticism, blaming the spread of terrorism on poverty.

"In the long-term we need to address poverty and illiteracy and that is what we are doing," Musharraf said. "And that is why I say, let us concentrate on the economic uplift of the country and the welfare and well being of the people."

The Pakistani president is attending the conference in Davos as well, as part of a European tour seeking to reassure the West that he is in control of his country after months of political instability and increased attacks by Islamic extremists.

Forum participants voiced skepticism about Mr. Musharraf's commitment to democracy and human rights.

But, he said Pakistan should not be held to the same high standards prevalent in European societies that have had centuries to build up their democratic traditions.