- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

Pakistan's ambassador yesterday asked the United States to drop its opposition to an expanded international peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan and refused to confirm reports that U.S. advisers will be allowed to help hunt down al Qaeda fugitives in Pakistan.

Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi told reporters and editors at a luncheon interview at The Washington Times that "it is important for the United States to review its position on not extending the [International Security Assistance Force] beyond Kabul."

"The central authority must be extended all over Afghanistan," Ms. Lodhi said.

Pakistan fears that local warlords will defy the interim Afghan administration of Hamid Karzai and create chaos, which could lead to renewed fighting and possibly terrorism, she said.

The Bush administration has opposed calls to increase the force of 5,000 British, German, Turkish and other allied troops in Kabul to about 20,000 and deploy them to other Afghan cities.

The United States prefers to rely on U.S. Special Forces' contact with local warlords to keep them in line and wait until a national army can be trained in about a year.

Ms. Lodhi also said it was impossible to confirm a report in The Times on Tuesday that Osama bin Laden was hiding in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

"No one has any definite information whether he is dead or alive, and if alive, where he is," said Ms. Lodhi, a former journalist now in her second term as ambassador in Washington.

She also refused to confirm a New York Times report yesterday that American advisers would be allowed to accompany Pakistani security forces on hunts for bin Laden and other al Qaeda or Taliban members inside Pakistan.

The presence of U.S. troops or CIA officers inside Pakistan has been controversial since President Pervez Musharraf decided to allow three forms of cooperation with the U.S.-led war on terrorism after September 11: use of airspace, logistical support and intelligence sharing.

Militant Islamic opponents had called for Gen. Musharraf's overthrow for allowing U.S. planes and troops to use Pakistani bases.

Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar told The Washington Times last month, "There is no problem: U.S. forces can cross the border into Pakistan if necessary we should discuss it."

But other senior Pakistani officials have said no U.S. forces will be allowed to operate inside Pakistan.

Ms. Lodhi said yesterday, when asked about U.S. advisers inside Pakistan, that close intelligence cooperation has allowed Pakistani forces to capture many al Qaeda agents, including top bin Laden aide Abu Zubaydah in a March 28 raid in Faisalabad.

Should additional intelligence information be available on bin Laden or his allies, "I can assure you what will happen is what happened to others crossing from Afghanistan they will be apprehended and handed over to the United States," the ambassador said.

She said that since September 11, Pakistan has reaffirmed its ties to the United States which were "at their peak" in the Cold War, when the two countries joined in anti-Soviet campaigns, but then dwindled in the 1990s when the United States imposed sanctions because of Pakistan's weapons programs.

Pakistan was now appealing for aid to reform its neglected education system, which encourages thousands of parents to send children to religious schools, or madrassas, where they are taught a mix of Koranic studies and anti-Western militancy.

U.S. aid for Pakistan since September 11 included $600 million, and another $73 million for border patrols. Pakistan has also requested $145 million in 2002 assistance for terrorism, narcotics and economic aid, Ms. Lodhi said.

In fiscal 2003, the Bush administration is asking for $200 million to help write off Pakistan's $1 billion in debt to the United States and another $100 million in direct aid.

But Pakistan is seeking the right to export more textiles and other goods to the United States that are blocked by import restrictions.

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