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Pakistan's leader tries to sell his controversial policy toward

Headline Photo
Associated Press

Protesters of the Jamait-e-Ulema-e-Islam (Moulana Fazal-ur-Rehman) burn an American flag yesterday in Peshawar, Pakistan. The group of more than 1,000 people condemned the terrorist attacks on the U.S. but opposes any action by the United States against Afghanistan without evidence against Osama bin Laden.

By Associated Press

Thursday September 20, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf said yesterday that his nation was facing a "very serious time" and his offer to help the United States strike at terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden was Pakistan's best option.

Wearing his military uniform, Musharraf said in a nationally televised speech that the United States had not finalized operational plans for an attack on bin Laden and the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan who shelter him.

But shortly after Musharraf finished speaking, a senior U.S. defense official said in Washington that the Pentagon ordered combat aircraft to begin moving to bases in the Persian Gulf region. The deployment has been dubbed "Operation Infinite Justice."

Musharraf emphasized that Washington was not declaring war on Islam or Afghanistan.

"Nowhere have the words Islam or the Afghan nation been mentioned," in the talks between Pakistan and the United States about cooperating in their efforts to battle terrorism, Musharraf said in his native Urdu.

Musharraf's address was intended to explain his decision to help U.S. forces capture or kill bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He has promised to provide U.S. forces with access to his country's air space and land.

That decision has sparked anger and fear among many in Pakistan, a Muslim nation of 140 million people, where some groups strongly back bin Laden and the Taliban.

"Pakistan is passing through a very serious time. Our decision today will impact our future," said Musharraf, punctuating his speech with stories and quotes from the Koran, Islam's holy book.

To cooperate with the United States and stand together with the international community will ensure the South Asian country emerges as a "responsible and dignified Pakistan," he said.

But Musharraf said that his government had been forced to make a tough choice.

"When you are faced with two calamities and must choose one, then it is better to choose the lesser one," Musharraf said, implying that if he didn't stand with the United States, Pakistan would become isolated by the international community at a time when it was uniting with the United States for a war against terrorism.

President Bush said he welcomed Musharraf's statement of support and said he had taken a "bold position." Bush said the Pakistani president will work "to the extent he can" with America and its allies in retaliating against bin Laden.

Musharraf, a general who seized power in a bloodless 1999 coup, is facing an influx of refugees, heightened tensions with India, and the threats by Islamic militants in Pakistan who have demonstrated against US reprisals and in support of bin Laden.

Musharraf warned neighboring India, its foe in three wars in the last 50 years, not to take advantage of the crisis that Pakistan is currently facing.

Local newspapers have reported that Islamabad is asking for a $3 billion debt to be written off by the United States in return for Pakistan's cooperation.

Musharraf's most immediate threat comes from enraged militant Muslim groups who support bin Laden and the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan

The U.S. targets are bin Laden, his al-Qaida organization accused by Washington of operating terrorist camps in Afghanistan and the Taliban, Musharraf said.

The United States is building an international coalition in its battle against terrorism and has the backing of United Nations resolutions, Musharraf said.

"The fight is against terrorism, a battle that has the support of all Islamic countries," he added.

Yesterday, Maulana Sami-ul Haq, chairman of the militant Pakistan Defense Council, a group of 35 Islamic organizations, said they would have to obey any Taliban order for a holy war by Muslim nations against the United States if its forces attack Afghanistan.

"Pakistan would have to support an edict for such a jihad," Haq said at a news conference in Rawalpindi, a city located near Islamabad, the capital.

Demonstrators burned American flags and effigies of Musharraf and President Bush in demonstrations yesterday in the southern city of Karachi and in Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province that is a hotbed of support for bin Laden and the Taliban, protesters burned American flags.

"Bush can't get Osama alive. If the United States dares, it should send ground forces into Pakistan instead of sending missiles into Afghanistan," Abdul Latif, one of the protest leaders, told a crowd of some 1,200 people in Peshawar. "America can't conquer Afghanistan, even in a hundred years."

Musharraf said he has sent a letter to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar about "the gravity of the situation."

Musharraf also said he was asking the United States "to take whatever action it wants with tolerance, to show tolerance and balance in whatever it wants to do, and on the issue of bin Laden we are asking them for whatever proof they have," Musharraf said.


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