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JANA WENDT: Ambassador Kenton Keith, is the coalition winning the war against terrorism?

KENTON KEITH, FORMER US ENVOY PAKISTAN: Certainly the coalition has made major gains against the al-Qa`ida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan, especially military and political gains, and it has made enormous gains as far as protecting the people of Afghanistan from starvation.

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However, if you are talking about, broadly, in the Islamic world especially, if the coalition has won the hearts and minds, or has convinced Muslims all over the world, that this is genuinely a war against terrorism and not a war against Islam, I think the answer is mixed and I would tend to say that the answer is no.

JANA WENDT: How would the coalition set about persuading those nations that need persuading that this is something to be supported, this war?

KENTON KEITH: First of all, the coalition needs to continue its efforts against those nations that have sponsored terrorism and are involved in terrorism. And I think that the fact that the nations that have joined the coalition include Islamic countries, importantly include Islamic countries, like Pakistan, like Turkey, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. And those states will need to speak up and we need to encourage them to speak up, to conclude with the rest of us that we`re all in it together.

JANA WENDT: Well, let`s look at a country like Pakistan. I mean, the United States is often accused of supporting non-democratic states for its own ends. Doesn`t Pakistan fall into that category too?

KENTON KEITH: I suppose that case could be made, but there are greater arguments, there are greater imperatives. In this case, the imperative is against international terrorism. And also I think it is – it`s not the first time that the United States or Western democracies in general have allied themselves with non-democratic regimes for perfectly good reasons. In this case, you couldn`t have a better reason than the fight for international terrorism. Having said that, I think you should also look at President Musharraf and the role that he`s playing in Pakistan and the general support that he has in the population.

JANA WENDT: But you could not say that General Musharraf has any democratic credentials to speak of, could you?

KENTON KEITH: No, it would be unfair to describe President Musharraf, who came to office in a military coup, as a great example of the democratic process.

JANA WENDT: And who recently conducted a referendum that is seen by most observers as a joke.

KENTON KEITH: A joke, or playing for time. We are looking at a man who has a great deal of pressure to deal with. He is dealing with a potential nuclear confrontation with his age-old enemy. He`s looking at a commitment that he has made to the coalition to help in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. He`s looking at the necessity to bring pressure to bear on groups of Islamic radicals, some of whom have some popular following. He has a lot of things that are pressures on him that perhaps would not bear running an open election at this time.

JANA WENDT: Let`s look at your closest non-Muslim ally, the UK. There have been recent reports coming out of the UK that senior British officials in Tony Blair`s office have labelled US efforts alongside Pakistan to root out al-Qa`ida fighters in that north-western frontier province as `blundering` and US efforts as `backfiring`. This sounds like a concern with such a close ally in the new front line of the war, doesn`t it?

KENTON KEITH: It does sound like a concern and I am concerned to read it and to hear it because we have been working so closely with the British over these last months. All I can say is that is some of the toughest terrain and those are some of the most intractable enemies that you can find. It is quite possible that mistakes have been made in approach and I think it is fair to say that mountain divisions in our military forces don`t have a great deal of political training. They`re excellent fighters, but whether they can negotiate with a village Muktar as well as a British officer who has had colonial or post-colonial duties, I won`t make that claim.

JANA WENDT: You say that for the war against terrorism to be a success overall, the coalition must hold firm. Could the US nonetheless decide to make a strike on Iraq without the support of its key coalition allies, like the UK?

KENTON KEITH: Yes, the US could do that. It is my fervent hope that they would never contemplate that, that the Administration would never contemplate that, because it seems to me that we must have a coalition effort if we are to win this war on international terrorism and a war against Saddam Hussein is not a war against international terrorism. A strike against Saddam Hussein, if it destroyed the coalition, would have the opposite effect of what we will be looking for, which is a worldwide coalition against international terrorism.

JANA WENDT: This is clearly your view, but we know that there`s a tug of war going on inside the Administration about this very issue. Who`s winning in that war?

KENTON KEITH: Well, it`s hard to say. I`m not inside that war. Like a lot of people who observe closely from within the beltway, it seems that the tide shifts from time to time. At the moment, there are other concerns and a war against or strike against Saddam is receding in likelihood, it seems to me, while we deal with the Middle East issues.

JANA WENDT: Ambassador, just quickly, another issue – September 11 has spawned all sorts of results in the United States and across the world of course and one of them appears to be the constriction of human rights within the US itself. Do you think the President has support for these moves, strong support within the US now?

KENTON KEITH: Well, President Bush has an enormous approval rating. And Americans traditionally, historically, have allowed some of their civil liberties to be constrained in times of emergencies. I know we`re talking about giving the government authorisation to do some kinds of eavesdropping that it hasn`t done before, to look into financial dealings in a way that they haven`t done before. I think most Americans are pretty comfortable with that for the time being. Now, how long that would go on depends on how long they believe the emergency is justified.

JANA WENDT: Is there a threshold, as in this far and no further?

KENTON KEITH: There is a threshold, but I don`t know where it is. There is a threshold. Americans are like that. They will get to a point where they`re fed up, or where they don`t see that this makes sense anymore and then they will react, but for the moment I think that he has high approval ratings – that is, the President – that Americans are united in feeling that this is a serious threat and are perfectly willing to give up some of their civil rights, some of their civil liberties, if it will help protect them and their families.

JANA WENDT: Ambassador Kenton Keith, thank you very much for your time.

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