Pakistan's president speaks to nation about cooperation with U.S.

Wednesday, September 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told his nation Wednesday that the U.S. decision to go after suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden does not target Islam or the people of Afghanistan.

Dressed in his military uniform, Musharraf spoke in the Urdu language in a nationally televised speech, and said that the campaign against terrorism should not be considered a threat to Islam. He also warned that Pakistan was facing a serious crisis.

Giving details of what the United States has asked, Musharraf said it is seeking Pakistan's help on intelligence gathering and logistics, as well as permission to use its airspace.

``Pakistan is passing through a very serious time,'' he said. ``Our decision today will impact on our future.''

He warned that the terrorist attacks against the United States and Pakistan's decision to help find and prosecute the perpetrators has put the country in its worst crisis since its last war, with neighboring India, in 1971.

``Nowhere have the words Islam or the Afghan nation been mentioned,'' in discussions between Pakistan and the United States about cooperating in efforts to battle terrorism, he said.

He said the United States' operation plan has not been prepared fully yet and few details of the support being sought from Pakistan were known.

``Pakistan is passing through a very delicate phase,'' he said. ``If we make a mistake now, it will affect our future.''

To cooperate with the United States and stand together with the international community will ensure the country emerges as a ``responsible and dignified Pakistan.

``Pakistan's decision will have far-reaching implications. A wrong decision could imperil our future,'' he said.

Musharraf's address was intended to explain his decision to help U.S. forces capture or kill Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Part of the speech dealt with India, which remains a bitter rival. Musharraf accused New Delhi of trying to profit from the tensions by suggesting that Pakistan is not cooperating with the international movement against terrorism.

``They want Pakistan to be declared a terrorist state and thus damage our Kashmir cause,'' Musharraf said of the Indians. ``I want to tell them in English, 'Lay off'.''

In a sign of the virulent opposition among some Pakistanis, a powerful alliance of Islamic groups warned Wednesday that cooperating against bin Laden would throw Pakistan into civil war.

There were violent protests for a second day in Karachi, in southern Pakistan, where hundreds of demonstrators burned effigies of Musharraf and President Bush. Protesters also burned American flags in Peshawar, a northern hotbed of support for bin Laden.

The decision by Musharraf _ who seized power in a 1999 bloodless coup _ to provide U.S. forces with access to its country's air space and land has thrust his Muslim nation of 140 million people to the front of Washington's war on terrorism.

Pakistan is one of only three countries _ along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates _ that officially recognize the Taliban government.

A delegation of Pakistan officials met with Taliban leaders in Kandahar, Afghanistan, this week to urge them to extradite bin Laden to the United States or face attacks by a U.S.-led international force.

The officials returned to Islamabad on Tuesday with no agreement, but said the Taliban were considering several conditions to turn bin Laden over to a third country.