Archive for Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Report on Pakistan’s role in Afghan war angers Muslim conservatives

May 21, 2003


— A U.S. military report giving new details on Pakistani help during the war to oust Afghanistan's Taliban regime angered Islamic leaders Tuesday, who argued the government wasn't honest about the extent of its assistance.

Leaders of hard-line religious parties threatened to call street demonstrations to protest the revelations. Some urged the resignation of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S. campaign against terrorist groups.

The critics focused on figures in a U.S. Central Command's report saying that 57,800 air missions over Afghanistan crossed Pakistani air space or originated on Pakistani soil and that 8,000 U.S. Marines used a Pakistan port as a transit point to the war zone.

The hard-liners, already angry over Musharraf's siding with Washington, said the report contradicted the government's statements that operations of the U.S.-led coalition in Pakistan would be limited and would involved only supply and rescue missions.

Pakistan's military and the Foreign Ministry both refused to comment.

"The hands of our rulers are stained with the blood of Muslims," said Ameer-ul Azeem, a spokesman for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of six Islamic parties in a coalition that governs two provinces bordering Afghanistan where sympathy for the Taliban is strong.

Islamic hard-liners have made political gains since the government ended Pakistan's support for the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks and backed the U.S.-led war on the Afghan regime for refusing to surrender Osama bin Laden and shut down al-Qaida training camps.

At the time, Musharraf said Pakistan's help would be limited to allowing U.S. planes to fly over Pakistan, permitting an unspecified number of airfields to be used for supplying troops in Afghanistan but not for staging attacks, and providing fuel for coalition military aircraft.

The report was first reproduced Monday in the Pakistani newspaper Nawa-e-Waqt, and accounts of it appeared, along with complaints from Islamic religious leaders, on Tuesday in other papers.

The Central Command later cut off access to the report, "for an update," said Lt. Col. Martin Compton, a Central Command spokesman at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

Kamal Matinuddin, a retired general who is now a political analyst, predicted the report wouldn't cause Musharraf significant problems. He said the war was 18 months ago and "people are more worried about domestic issues today."

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