- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Pakistan is prepared to change existing policy to let U.S. troops enter its territory from Afghanistan in pursuit of al Qaeda suspects, Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said yesterday.
"There is no problem: U.S. forces can cross the border into Pakistan if necessary we should discuss it," Mr. Sattar said by telephone from Geneva, where he was attending meetings of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
"There is great U.S.-Pakistani cooperation in the border area. We can discuss how to handle things."
Mr. Sattar pointed out that Pakistani troops already are deployed in the rugged border area, where U.S. intelligence services believe many al Qaeda members, including Osama bin Laden, have taken shelter.
"But if American forces are closer, then through communications between U.S. and Pakistani forces, we can arrive at an understanding," Mr. Sattar said.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, called yesterday for greater latitude for U.S. and coalition forces who are "in the hunt for the remaining terrorists."
"I am sure some of [the terrorists] have gone across to Pakistan," he told reporters during a visit to Bagram air base near Kabul.
Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, also proposed placing U.S. troops on the Pakistani side of the frontier "to rid the al Qaeda and the other terrorists from going across that porous border."
But Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters on Monday that he did not plan to send U.S. troops across the border.
American troops could encounter violent resistance from the Pashtuns who inhabit Pakistan's tribal border areas and pay little heed to the central government. The tribal leaders have been quoted this week voicing fierce anti-American, anti-Jewish and pro-al Qaeda sentiments.
Thousands of Pakistani troops have been deployed in the tribal areas for the first time since independence in 1947. Yet they have been unable to seal the frontier against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters who are believed to have escaped into the lawless region after Operation Anaconda and the battle at Tora Bora.
About 300 suspected fighters have been detained by Pakistani forces and are under interrogation, said Mr. Sattar, who disputed reports that hundreds or thousands more have found a warm welcome inside the tribal belt.
"The government made it abundantly clear [al Qaeda] are not welcome and anyone who shelters them takes a great risk," the foreign minister said.
The struggle to contain militants in the tribal area is only the latest of many trials and tribulations facing Pakistan.
President Pervez Musharraf is expected to declare soon that he will hold a referendum to continue in power for five more years, said a senior Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Gen. Musharraf, who took power in a 1998 coup, has promised national elections by October but continues to ban the exiled leaders of the two mainstream parties Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League. Police prevented a political rally by the two groups Saturday.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, while reluctant to comment until there is a formal announcement, said Monday that Pakistan should "follow constitutional procedures" by allowing the courts to approve any referendum.
Normally, Pakistani presidents are elected by the parliament and the provincial assemblies, but on two occasions referendums were held. One of them prolonged the grip on power of another former general who took power in a coup Mohammed Zia ul-Haq.
Pakistan is also facing violence from recently banned militant groups such as those who killed American journalist Daniel Pearl, Christian worshippers in Islamabad and several Shi'ite Muslim doctors.
Mr. Sattar said Ahmed Omar Saeed, facing trial for the kidnapping and murder of Mr. Pearl, might be convicted and executed in Pakistan rather than extradited to the United States, where he also has been indicted.
The militant, who was freed from a terrorism sentence in India when allies hijacked a passenger plane, is also needed in Pakistan to testify in the trial of his accused co-conspirators, Mr. Sattar said.
Pakistan was deeply embarrassed by the March 17 grenade attack on a church in Islamabad, which led the U.S. Embassy to send home its nondiplomatic staff and families.


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