- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 11 (UPI) — Pakistan's religious parties warned the country's pro-American military leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Tuesday they would launch a campaign against him if he endorsed U.S. plans to attack Iraq.

The threat by the country's largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, came hours after Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali said Pakistan was finding it difficult to decide how to vote on Iraq in the U.N. Security Council.

The United States, Britain and Spain have jointly presented a resolution in the council, asking the world body to authorize military action to disarm Iraq.

In his first address to the nation earlier Tuesday, Jamali said: "It will be difficult for Pakistan to support a war on Iraq."

Earlier press reports had suggested Pakistan had decided to abstain.

Jamali said he also had consulted his Cabinet on this issue and most of his ministers also felt that "it would be difficult for Pakistan to support the war."

Sensing the government's weakness, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad warned, "The government cannot afford to remain neutral on this issue. We have to support the people of Iraq."

"If President Musharraf supports America, people of this country will never forgive him. They will launch a massive campaign against him," he added.

Earlier press reports had said that Pakistan had decided to abstain but the Pakistani prime minister did not explain how his country would vote if the matter were put before the Security Council.

A spokesman for Pakistan's U.N. mission told United Press International that the mission had not yet received any instruction from Islamabad. "We don't know yet whether we would vote or abstain," he added.

In his speech, Jamali assured the Pakistanis that whatever decision he takes "it would be in the best interest of Pakistan.

"We are the well-wishers of the people of Iraq. We want Iraq's safety, not its destruction," he declared.

But he warned his nation that it was "a dangerous and sensitive issue" that needed to be tackled carefully.

Pakistan is one of the six non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council still undecided on the issue. The three other permanent — and veto-wielding — members France, Russia and China oppose the U.S. and British proponents. Among the non-permanent members, Bulgaria and Spain are for the resolution; Germany and Syria are firmly against and Guinea, Cameroon, Angola, Chile and Mexico are still wavering.

"Ultimately, it is the Iraqis who have to decide the future of Iraq." The people of Pakistan, he said, should trust their government on this issue. "Whatever decision we take would be in the best interest of Pakistan."

Although Pakistan never had good relations with the Iraqi regime, its predominantly Muslim population is against declaring war on a fellow Muslim country.

Religious parties are organizing almost daily protests and rallies against a possible war in Iraq, urging the Pakistani government not to vote for the U.S. resolution seeking U.N. support for a military action.

But Musharraf is a strong U.S. ally who dumped his Taliban allies to join the U.S.-led war against terror in neighboring Afghanistan.

Official sources in Pakistan say that the country's military establishment supports the U.S. position on Iraq, but the Jamali government, which was elected in October last year, has urged Musharraf not to vote for the U.S. resolution. Instead, it has suggested that Pakistan should abstain when the U.S. Security Council goes to vote on Iraq sometime this week.

Explaining Pakistan's dilemma over Iraq, Jamali pointed out that Islamabad also was also "trying to establish a long-term relationship with Washington."

"We have supported America against terrorism and we have no differences with it," he added.


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