Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has told a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Islamabad that Muslim nations must stop blaming others for their troubles and solve their own problems. VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad.

Delegations from all 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference attended Tuesday's opening session in Islamabad.

The 38-year-old group is the leading coalition of Muslim nations.

In unexpectedly blunt opening comments, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said the meeting comes as the Muslim community faces unprecedented challenges, many of them self-imposed.

"The crises confronting the Islamic world are not only external but also internal, flowing from our own weaknesses, our own vulnerabilities, our own divisions within," he said. "The Islamic world is on a downward slide and we must face this."

General Musharraf said Islamic countries have failed to invest in education and lag far behind the rest of the world in literacy and economic growth.

The president also lashed out at Muslim hardliners who he blamed for fueling Western fears of the Islamic world.

"While the world views Islam as a militant, intolerant religion, this thought is reinforced by our own extremist forces," he said.  "We are in a state where these semi-literate clerics are closing the minds of people."

The president urged the Islamic Conference to completely revamp its charter so it can more effectively represent and revitalize Muslim nations.

He said wealthier members of the group should step up their support for lesser-developed Muslim countries.

General Musharraf also called for an end to "outside interference" in Iraq and proposed an all-Muslim peacekeeping force to help patrol the country.

A similar proposal was previously raised by U.S. diplomats but failed to attract support from Islamic countries.

President Musharraf has been a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror but faces increasing criticism from U.S. officials.

His comments Tuesday come as domestic opposition to his military-backed government has swelled and political analysts here suggest retaining U.S. support may be critical to his political survival.

Pakistan says 600 delegates are attending the conference from the 57 members of the OIC and observer groups. The meeting ends on Thursday.