- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

Pakistan’s foreign minister said yesterday his country would consider sending troops to Iraq after the United States transfers power June 30, but only if the request comes from a new, independent Iraqi government that is truly free of American control.

“We would like to help the people of Iraq if the situation developed where Iraqis were asking for our help,” Foreign Minister Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri told editors and reporters during a visit to The Washington Times.

“If we go in in response to a U.S. request, we would be regarded as American stooges in the eyes of our own people,” said Mr. Kasuri, who met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other senior U.S. officials and lawmakers during a trip to Washington this week.

The minister also said he was optimistic that the recent rapprochement with archrival India would continue despite the unexpected defeat of the government of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, a prime mover of the peace talks, in elections earlier this month.

Mr. Kasuri said the Congress party of incoming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has room to maneuver politically because hard-line elements in Mr. Vajpayee’s outgoing Hindu nationalist coalition already had endorsed the peace process.

“The hard-line party led by Mr. Vajpayee has already charted new territory, so if the Congress [party] follows the same course, they should feel less threatened,” he said.

In New Delhi yesterday, Mr. Singh told reporters he supported recent peace moves by both sides. He also is planning talks with all sides in Kashmir, the disputed province that has sparked tension and periodic warfare between India and Pakistan for more than five decades.

“We must find ways and means to resolve all outstanding problems that have been a source of friction and the unfortunate history of our relations with Pakistan,” Mr. Singh said in his first extended comments on relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Mr. Singh is to be sworn in tomorrow.

Bush administration officials have long hoped that Pakistan, a Muslim nation, would contribute troops to the Iraq security force, in part to relieve the burden on U.S. forces that dominate the existing military coalition.

U.S. officials are trying to nail down the text of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq that would spell out the country’s political future, define the U.N. role and make clear that any American “occupation” in Baghdad was legally ending with the transfer of sovereignty on June 30.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage told a Senate hearing Tuesday that unnamed “South Asian nations” were the best bets to contribute fresh troops to Iraq if the resolution is adopted.

Mr. Kasuri said Mr. Powell “only hinted” at a possible Pakistani mission in Iraq, but that Islamabad’s decision would hinge solely on whether real power was transferred to Iraqis and the United Nations was given a central role in the political transition.

“We don’t need arguments. The transfer of power must be evident to those on the ground in Iraq,” he said. “If the process has credibility, you will know and the entire international community will know.”

He said Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, was doing a “fine job,” and the Algerian diplomat may have more credibility now than U.S. officials to sell an “imperfect” compromise political solution to Iraq’s warring factions.

He said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf resisted sending troops last year because “it would have been regarded as an extension of the [American] occupation,” especially after Gen. Musharraf’s decision to side with the United States against the Taliban government in neighboring Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.

“We couldn’t afford it because already we had a certain label attached to us by our opponents because we were fighting in Afghanistan,” he said. Joining the U.S.-led mission in Iraq “would really have been playing with fire.”

He said Pakistan, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, would study any Iraq resolution carefully.

“The bottom line is that our public opinion and parliament must approve any mission,” he said.

Mr. Kasuri said he thought democracy was possible in Iraq, but added the continuing violence and resistance to the U.S.-led coalition made ambitious political reforms difficult to achieve.

The perception among Arab and Muslim states that the U.S. policies in the region are biased against them has only made the task harder, he said. “Even if you have something good, it has to be sold.”

Mr. Kasuri also defended Pakistan’s efforts to roll up the black-market network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist who built the country’s first nuclear bomb.

U.S. and British intelligence agents broke up a vast, long-running nuclear-smuggling operation run by Mr. Khan that sold Pakistani nuclear secrets to regimes such as Libya, Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Kasuri said Pakistan’s own internal investigation found that the secret network was restricted only to the facility where Mr. Khan worked and involved only centrifuges and other parts in which Mr. Khan specialized.

“If it had been state policy to proliferate these items, it would have happened at all our facilities,” he said. “We were the world’s eighth nuclear power, and it is not in our national interest that there be a ninth nuclear power.”

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