Pakistani leader: bombing during Ramadan will have negative fallout across Muslim world

By Elaine Ganley

Associated Press

PARIS – Pakistan’s military ruler said Thursday that continuing the U.S.-led bombing campaign through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan will have “a negative fallout in the entire Muslim world.”

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key Muslim ally in the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, said he would take up the issue with President Bush when he meets him in New York this weekend.

“My means of pressure will be the strength of my argument,” Musharraf told a news conference in Paris, where he is meeting French officials in an attempt to shore up Western economic aid to his country. He later flew to London for a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Continuing the bombing through Ramadan, which begins in about 10 days, “will have an adverse effect in Muslim countries,” Musharraf said, speaking in English. “It will have a negative fallout in the entire Muslim world.”

Already, Musharraf said, civilian casualties have harmed the coalition’s image in the Muslim world.

“It is being perceived, in the whole world, as if this is a war against the poor, miserable, innocent people of Afghanistan,” he said, insisting on the need for “short and targeted” military action.

“The magnitude of the (military) objective to be achieved is not great at all. It is very minor,” he said – an apparent reference to the coalition’s effort to quash the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden, the top suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. With the proper intelligence, he said, “it can be achieved in a few hours or a day.”

Asked whether Pakistan knows bin Laden’s whereabouts, Musharraf said: “No. We don’t know it at all. We would like to find that out.”

Musharraf also said Pakistan has “no intention” of breaking diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime, which is harboring bin Laden. He said it was “essential” the ties be maintained because they provide “a useful diplomatic window.

“Diplomatic interaction is useful and fruitful and accepted by the coalition,” he said.

Pakistan quickly sided with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks, despite its ties to neighboring Afghanistan. Musharraf said his nation would remain actively involved in the coalition and pledged “total cooperation” in sharing intelligence.

Musharraf spoke after talks with Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Meeting Wednesday evening with President Jacques Chirac, he pressed the French leader for debt relief and an unspecified amount of financial aid, according to Chirac’s spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna.

Musharraf told reporters that Pakistan stands to lose an estimated $4 billion because of the war in Afghanistan. The export market has been devastated, insurance has skyrocketed, airlines have canceled flights and the tourism industry is suffering.

In what amounts to a reward for joining the coalition, Pakistan has already won the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions and various pledges of debt relief aimed at propping up its sluggish economy. Musharraf said he would ask Bush to implement a congressional decision to fully lift all sanctions.

The Pakistani leader, who took power in a 1999 coup, said he feels his position at home is secure, despite Muslim fundamentalist protests over his alliance with the coalition and a recent shake-up within the military.

“There is no risk involved. I know the support I enjoy in Pakistan,” he said.

While Musharraf called for a short and targeted war, a minister in Musharraf’s Cabinet said Thursday that the strikes would take longer than expected to achieve their objectives because of the tough terrain, the hardy nature of Afghans inured to suffering and the lack of high-profile targets common in developed countries, such as highways, railroads and telecommunications.

“There are actually no worthwhile targets of high value and assets which will break the will of the Taliban leadership,” Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“Both American coalition partners and Pakistan thought it would be a short war,” he said.

However, the Taliban have shown few signs of losing their grip on most of the territory they control.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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