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Musharraf makes his case for helping U.S.

Students of religious schools in Karachi, Pakistan, beat a burning effigy of President Bush.  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf sought Wednesday to paint a picture for his nation's diverse population of the tough geopolitical spot the nation is in, as the United States presses Pakistan for assistance and threatens action against its northwestern neighbor, Afghanistan.

Musharraf's lengthy televised address on Wednesday was an appeal to his nation to understand why he agreed to go along with the United States in its efforts to hold Saudi dissident multimillionaire Osama bin Laden at least partially responsible for the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Terrorists commandeered four jet aircraft in the bustling Northeast corridor, slamming two into the landmark World Trade Center towers in New York, and another into the Pentagon.

A fourth hijacked plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

"My whole nation is feeling sorry," Musharraf said. "We regret that 45 nations lost people in this tragedy… Pakistanis were among them. They wanted to improve their lives and went to America."

Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf tells his people the United States is not threatening Islam. CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports. (September 19)

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In the United States, Musharraf continued, there is "a wave of anger and a demand for revenge."

It is that sort of emotional response, the general said, that he is trying to deflect in his own country. Several factions in Pakistan -- most notably legions of fundamentalist Muslims -- argue against cooperation with the United States. Many such groups, including several who profess strong allegiances to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, have threatened that civil war may result if Musharraf's actions cause harm to the Taliban or bin Laden.

Bin Laden -- whom many analysts consider to be the head of a multi-tentacled terror funding and logistics organization known as al Qaeda ("the Base") -- is believed to have lived, on the move, in Afghanistan since the mid-1990s. The Taliban consider him its guest, and he is rumored to have funded many Afghan infrastructure improvements with his millions in return for their hospitality.

Bin Laden is believed to operate training camps for terrorists from all over the Middle East in several of Afghanistan's most geographically forbidding regions.

The United States, Musharraf said, is asking for access to Pakistani airspace, "information," and logistics support.

Danger from all sides

Musharraf said that he had considered every factor of every option in what he described as one of the most dangerous times in his nation's short history.

By siding with the United States, he said, he was seeking to boost Pakistan's influence in the volatile region of South Asia. Pakistan is locked in a struggle with India, to its east, for control of the disputed region of Kashmir, which is nestled between India and Pakistan to the south and borders China to the north.

One of Pakistan's most vital national goals is to take control of Muslim-dominated Kashmir. Conflicting claims to the region have sparked several border skirmishes, and two wars, between India and Pakistan. Both countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998, resulting in severe sanctions.

If Pakistan does not assist the United States now, Musharraf said, India could take full advantage. He accused the Indians of already mounting an offensive to discredit Pakistan.

"On the one hand, if we make any mistake, it could culminate in very bad ends," he said. "If we make the right decisions, it could be very fruitful for us.

"The bad results could endanger our very existence… And it can also devastate our main cause, Kashmir," he continued. Or… "we can emerge as a powerful nation, and all our problems can be solved."

India, Musharraf said, wants Pakistan to be "declared a terrorist nation."

"The rest of the world is talking about the tragedy of this disaster, and our neighboring country, with whom we were trying to talk peace and cooperation, is trying to defame Pakistan and Islam, and harm it. I want to tell them in English to lay off."

As tensions increase with India, Musharraf said, he has placed the entire military at its highest level of readiness.

"Our full air force is on high alert, and they are ready for a do-or-die mission."

But India is not the only immediate threat to Pakistan, he said. The Taliban have massed some 25,000 troops on the northwestern frontier, and have threatened to attack any neighbor that cooperates with the United States if an offensive is launched against Afghanistan.

Pakistan is one of only three nations worldwide to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate governing body of Pakistan. Musharraf dispatched the head of his military intelligence service to the Afghan capital, Kandahar, earlier this week to persuade their highest leaders to turn bin Laden over or face attack.

Musharraf sounded on Wednesday a note of frustration with his neighbors.

"Even in the present circumstances we are trying to negotiate with them," he said. "Our effort is somehow to come out of this serious situation so Afghanistan and the Taliban do not face any kind of harm."

The Taliban enjoy wide support in Pakistan. Several schools that teach the tenets of fundamentalist Islam dot Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and are credited with educating the majority of ethnic Pushtans who populate the Taliban's government and armed forces.

Musharraf cautioned the "10 or 15 percent" of Pakistan's population who support the Taliban and advocate civil unrest in the event of an attack on Afghanistan not to let emotions run high. The United States and its allies are not targeting Islam, he said, they are targeting terrorists.

"I want to underline this fact. There is no mention of Afghanistan or its people, or against Islam." "This is not a question of cowardice or strength. We are very strong people. Showing strength without wisdom is a kind of foolishness," he said. "Pakistan comes first. Everything else is second."

-- CNN's Ian Christopher McCaleb contributed to this story.

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