Pak on tinderbox poised to explode: Zardari

Washington: Blaming the recent political assassinations on religious fanatics, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday warned that fanaticism in his nation was a "tinderbox" poised to explode across the country and asked Washington to avoid confrontation and work together with Islamabad against terror.

"The religious fanaticism behind our assassinations is a tinderbox poised to explode across Pakistan. The embers are fanned by the opportunism of those who seek advantages in domestic politics by violently polarizing society," Zardari said in an oped in the `Washington Post`.

But he declared that his government will not retreat nor will it be intimidated and will give a determined and calibrated response to terrorists.

Charging that assassinations of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and another PPP leader Minority Affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti was carried out by the "same elements" who killed his wife Benazir Bhutto, Zardari quoted her words to say that the fight in his country was due to internal tensions within the Muslim society, which was threatening to degenerate into a clash between Islam and the West.

He said the small but increasingly belligerent minority was intent on undoing the very principles of tolerance upon which his nation was founded in 1947 and for which principles by Pakistan`s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, lived and died.

"The extremists who murdered my wife and friends are the same who blew up the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and who have blown up girls` schools in the Swat Valley," he said.

Zardari said the fight against terror and religious fanatics would suffer if there was friction between US and his country and referred to the recent standoff over the Davis affair.

He said "it was in none one`s interest to allow this (Davis case) matter to be manipulated and exploited to weaken the government of Pakistan and damage further the US image in our country".

Pakistan, Zardari said, was committed to peaceful adjudication of the Davis case in accordance with law and US and Pakistan should avoid political incidents that could further inflame tensions and provide extremists and opportunists with a pretext for destabilising "our fledgling democracy".

"The Raymond Davis incident in Lahore, which directly resulted in the deaths of three Pakistani men and the suicide of a Pakistani woman, is a prime example of the unanticipated consequences of problematic behavior," he said.

In his first comment on the Davis issue, the Pakistan President said "We need not go into the legal, moral and political intricacies of this case. Suffice it to say that the actions of Davis and others like him inflame passions in our country and undermine respect and support for the United States among our people."

At the same time, he said threats of applying sanctions on Pakistan over the Davis affair would be "counterproductive".

"It is a threat, written out of the playbook of America`s enemies, whose only result will be to undermine US strategic interests in South and Central Asia," he said.

"We in Pakistan know our challenges and seek the trust and confidence of our international allies, who sometimes lose patience and pile pressure on those of us who are already on the front lines of what is undeniably a long war," Pakistan President said.

Zardari warned that the environment in this area was "incendiary" and any hot rhetoric and dysfunctional warnings could start fires that will be difficult to extinguish.