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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2005, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
HARDtalk in Pakistan...
Fresh from his week in the Middle East, Stephen Sackur travelled to Pakistan. In his diary he tells what was said behind the scenes when he interviewed the Foreign Minister and the leader of the main Islamic party.

So begins an epic journey back to London, a brief reunion with family and then on to Islamabad.

Coffee is taken intravenously

At least that's the plan until the catering dispute at Heathrow intervenes. Our London bound flight from Israel gets diverted to Newcastle some 300 miles to the North.

Given that the first Hardtalk interview from Israel is due to be edited for immediate transmission this turn of events is, to say the least, unwelcome. In the event we hire the last available car in Newcastle airport and head south as fast as we can. We get to the edit room at 4-00 am. Coffee is taken intravenously.

Forty eight hours later I'm on the tarmac at Islamabad airport. Rain is slamming down so hard I paddle to the terminal building. Yes I'm tired, but the timing of this trip makes the fatigue worthwhile. In the wake of the London bombs on July 7th there's been an intense focus on Islamist extremism in Pakistan. (Three of the four London bombers had ties to Pakistan and spent time here in the last couple of years.)

Khurshid Kasuri

President Musharraf has announced new controls on the religious schools or madrassas some of which have been linked to radical preachers. Foreign students have been asked to leave - but does this add up to evidence of Pakistan being a breeding ground for al-Qaeda style zealots? Not a bit of it, according to Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri. In the course of a feisty encounter he assures me that the Musharraf Government has extremism under control.

The strategic alliance with the US in the 'war on terror' has been in Pakistan's interest, he says, which isn't to say that Pakistan agrees with the US on a range of its policies toward the Muslim world.

The Americans have to realise, he tells me, that it is the Israel-Palestine conflict that remains at the heart of everything.

Which is why, off the record, Mr Kasuri wants to question me about my impressions of politics in Israel. The Americans have to realise, he tells me, that it is the Israel-Palestine conflict that remains at the heart of everything. If that is resolved, with a real justice, then the radical elements in the Muslim world will have nothing to say to their people.

Qazi Hussain Ahmed

As it happens I'm in Islamabad on the eve of 'Local Body' elections for councils across the country. And the focus is on the performance of the MMA, the Islamic parties alliance which is seeking to build on a strong showing in the 2002 parliamentary elections.

MMA leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed has been on Hardtalk before - but this time he is, if anything, even harsher in his condemnation of American policy and the Musharaff Government's alliance with Washington. We get into a heated discussion about 9-11. This veteran political leader, a man who represents mainstream political Islam, not the militants and the jihadis, tells me that he will not accept that Osama Bin Laden was behind the Twin Towers attacks. More convincing, he says, is the possibility that it was the product of some sort of Zionist conspiracy.

Many Pakistanis find it a persuasive argument. Indeed you can be sure it won't just be Pakistanis looking out for the results of the local body elections. From Washington to Jerusalem and far beyond there's a recognition that Pakistan is a vital frontline in the battle for ideas in the Muslim world.


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