- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

ISLAMABAD — The United States soon will name Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, making it easier for the country to acquire U.S. arms in recognition of the Pakistani government’s crucial support in the war on terrorism, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday.

Hours later, Pakistani officials said their troops had surrounded al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, in an operation near the Afghan border, after waging their second assault this week on Islamic militants in isolated tribal areas near the Afghan border.

“We’ll designate Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally for purposes of our future military-to-military relations,” the secretary said at a press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri during a visit to Islamabad.

The designation, of which Congress will be formally notified in the coming days, allows a foreign country to use U.S. funding to lease certain defense items and makes it eligible for loans of military supplies for research and development projects.

It also enables that country to buy depleted uranium ammunition, to have U.S.-owned military stockpiles on its territory outside U.S. bases and to receive U.S. military training on easier financial terms.

U.S. officials said the new classification will not affect Pakistan’s long-stalled bid to buy sophisticated F-16 fighter jets. That request currently is being reviewed as part of a military package.

Other countries that hold the same status include Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and New Zealand.

“In some instances, it is more symbolic than practical,” Mr. Powell told reporters on his plane as he flew from Islamabad to Kuwait in the afternoon. “I don’t know if Pakistan will be able to take great advantage of it.”

He also noted that the United States is providing Pakistan with $3 billion in assistance over five years and has granted the country nearly $1.5 billion in debt relief.

The government of President Pervez Musharraf has been a staunch ally of the Bush administration since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its support has been vital in hunting down remnants of the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan and members of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

In pursuit of such militants, paramilitary fighters, backed by army troops and helicopter gunships, stormed tribesmen’s homes in South Waziristan yesterday in lawless areas near the porous Afghan border.

On Tuesday, heavy fighting in the same region took the lives of at least 15 paramilitary troops and 24 militants.

Mr. Powell’s visit to Pakistan marked the end of a three-day tour of South Asia — his first in nearly two years — which included India and Afghanistan.

One of the main topics of his discussions with Gen. Musharraf and other Pakistani officials was the extensive proliferation network led by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the founder of the country’s atomic program, who last month admitted to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

“Questions have arisen as to not only what Doctor Khan and his associates might have been doing, but was there any other knowledge within the government at the time it was happening?” Mr. Powell said at the press conference. “I think this is a logical and proper question to ask, and I am sure that Pakistani authorities would want it known as well.”

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