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Pakistan: Powell, Musharraf Pledge Cooperation

  • Askold Krushelnycky

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell today concluded talks in Pakistan with that country's president, General Pervez Musharraf. The two discussed the U.S.-led attacks against targets in Afghanistan and what the future holds for the region.

Islamabad, 16 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Pakistan last night to begin talks with the country's military leader, General Pervez Musharraf.

Powell's visit, which came under tight security controls, was aimed at demonstrating U.S. appreciation for Musharraf's cooperation in the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism. Today marked the ninth day of allied military strikes against Pakistan's neighbor, Afghanistan, where suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden is believed to be living under the protection of the ruling Taliban militia.

Powell and Musharraf discussed concerns over the potential for unrest in Pakistan, should the air campaign continue for a long period of time. Pakistan, which had been one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban, has seen a wave of anti-American protests in the days since the U.S.-led bombing campaign began.

The two officials also discussed what sort of government should be installed in Afghanistan if the Taliban is removed from power. Pakistan, which has economic and territorial interests in Afghanistan, is eager to see a friendly government put in place in Kabul.

The two broke off talks for a press conference before resuming discussions. Musharraf admitted Pakistanis were unhappy with the U.S.-led strikes, but still supported his government's decision to join the international antiterrorism coalition. He also said the blame for the current air campaign lies solely with the Taliban leadership.

"We grieve for the innocent victims in Afghanistan. We regret that the government in Afghanistan sacrificed the interests of millions of its own people. Our decision to support the international campaign against terrorism in all its manifestations is based on principles."

In his remarks, Musharraf urged the international community to think ahead to maintaining peace in the future Afghanistan, saying such issues were lagging behind the fast pace of the military campaign. He said massive economic aid would be needed to rebuild the country's infrastructure, remove thousands of landmines, and return millions of refugees to their homes.

"We should focus not only on combating terrorism but also on helping the Afghans establish a durable political system and the rehabilitation and the reconstruction of their country. A durable peace in Afghanistan could only be possible through the establishment of a broad-based multiethnic government representing the demographic contours of Afghanistan, freely chosen by the Afghans without outside interference."

Musharraf said among those taking part in creating Afghan's future political system should be the country's former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who has lived in exile in Rome since being overthrown in 1973. The Pakistani president also pushed for the inclusion of other political leaders, including moderate Taliban officials, as well as tribal elders and Afghans living outside Afghanistan in establishing a future government.

Musharraf also mentioned the Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban opposition group that has used the U.S. strikes to advance on a major Afghan city, Mazar-i-Sharif, from which it could potentially launch an attack on the capital Kabul.

Pakistan has traditionally condemned the alliance, which has ties with three of Pakistan's regional rivals, Russia, Iran, and India. Pakistan has warned that the alliance should not be allowed to seize power unilaterally, and has been disturbed by U.S. and British support for the group.

Powell, who spoke of the United States' "enduring commitment" to a relationship with Pakistan, tried to reassure Musharraf on the issue. He said the U.S. and Pakistan "both have a common goal in seeing that the post-Taliban government in Kabul would be one that represented all the people of Afghanistan and a regime that would obviously be friendly to all of its neighbors, [including] Pakistan."

Powell also addressed Musharraf's concerns over the destabilizing impact a drawn-out air campaign would have on Pakistan and over the possible ascendancy of the Northern Alliance.

"We would like the military campaign to be as short as possible. We have no desire to extend the campaign beyond the achievement of its goal. But as [U.S.] President [George W. Bush] said, it will go on as long as it is necessary to achieve the military goal. With respect to the Northern Alliance, I think we both agree that [all] elements have to be included in discussion of the future of Afghanistan. That would include the Northern Alliance [as well as] the southern tribal leaders."

Powell, like Musharraf, said that although the Taliban regime must be eliminated, there might be room in Afghanistan's future government for moderate Taliban members. He said the term "Taliban" did not just mean the government in Afghanistan.

"It also defines a group of individuals, a group of people. If you got rid of the regime, there would still be people who might find the teachings, feelings, and beliefs of that movement still very important. And to the extent that they are willing to participate in the development of a new Afghan assembly with everybody being represented, we would have to listen to them."

Musharraf said he was not demanding a timetable for when the U.S.-led attacks would end, and said they should be allowed to achieve their military objectives. But he stressed that he hoped it would be a short campaign.

More anti-Western and anti-Musharraf demonstrations are planned this week in Pakistan by religious groups and political opponents. Although state security forces have so far managed to contain the protests, Musharraf knows the pressure on him will grow the longer the attacks go on.

Musharraf said he and Powell also discussed the Kashmir issue. Kashmir, a largely Muslim-populated area of India bordering on Pakistan, has been the cause of two wars between the neighboring countries and decades of low-level conflict that frequently boils over into bouts of fierce fighting and violence -- as happened last night (15 October), when the two sides exchanged heavy shelling. Musharraf said he hoped Pakistan and India could develop better relations despite the deep-seated dispute.

"I am emphasizing that normalization of relations would require the Kashmir dispute [to be] resolved in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people. Kashmir remains at the heart of Pakistan-India tension. We agreed on the need for the two sides to address this and other issues with sincerity and with a sense of purpose."

Powell said that the Kashmir issue was central to good ties between Pakistan and India and that it should be resolved by addressing the issues through "peaceful political and diplomatic" means and not by force. Powell, who later in the day traveled to India for talks, said he would reiterate his views to the Indian government.