Pakistan offers `unstinted' aid in hunt for terrorists

Nation seen as key in search for bin Laden

Terrorism Strikes America

South Asia

September 14, 2001|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

With its close ties to Afghanistan and perhaps knowledge of the whereabouts of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden, Pakistan offered the United States its "unstinted cooperation" yesterday in hunting down the organizers of the attacks on New York and Washington.

"Pakistan has been extending cooperation to international efforts to combat terrorism in the past and will continue to do so. All countries must join hands in this common cause," Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said yesterday in a statement.

Pakistan may be one of the keys to tracking down Saudi-born militant bin Laden, who is suspected of being behind the plots against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Islamic fundamentalist Taliban government in Afghanistan is sheltering bin Laden, and Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world that recognize the Afghan government. The other two are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but Pakistan is the only one of the three to have an embassy in Kabul.

The offer of assistance points to a new chapter in relations between the United States and Pakistan, two countries whose ties have unraveled since the end of the Cold War.

The pledge of assistance occurred after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's appeal to the world, which singled out Pakistan, to help hunt down terrorist organizations.

It is unclear what form the cooperation by Pakistan might take, but Pakistan's greatest assets may be intelligence to track down the elusive terrorists and logistical support, if necessary, for a military attack on neighboring Afghanistan, analysts say.

Powell said yesterday at a news conference that he provided the Pakistani government "a specific list of things that we think would be useful for them to work on with us" and planned to discuss the list with the president of Pakistan, a country he considered a "friend."

Powell was expected to speak with other Pakistani officials yesterday. Officials at the Pakistan Mission to the United States, in New York, said Pakistan did not place limitations on its support to track down the terrorists.

"Our government offered unstinted cooperation. Unstinted means any kind of help they require," said Rizwan Khan, a spokeswoman for the mission.

But the offers of assistance may cause problems for Musharraf, whose administration came to power in 1999 by overthrowing Pakistan's democratically elected government, analysts say. Islamic parties inside his country have warned him not to assist the United States, and he will need to control any unrest.

"Musharraf is in a position to play. But he is sitting on a powder keg himself," says Glynn Wood, a professor of Asian studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.

Wood describes U.S.-Pakistani relations as "frayed." The high point of the countries' relationship was during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the 1980s, when the United States funneled military and economic aid to Pakistan to assist Afghan rebel forces. In 1981, the United States pumped $3.2 billion in military and economic aid into Pakistan and followed in 1986 with $4 billion.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and U.S. frustration with Pakistan's experiments with nuclear weapons have soured relations. In 1998, Pakistan responded to nuclear tests in India with its own tests, leading to strict sanctions. A year later, the military overthrow of Pakistan's democratic government further strained relations. Military aid has been cut off, frustrating the Pakistani military, which had grown to depend on U.S. weapons.

Pakistan has been accused in recent years of becoming involved in terrorism, although Pakistani officials deny that. According to a State Department report on terrorism, the United States has been increasingly concerned about Pakistani support of terrorist groups and its military support of the Taliban, which harbors terrorists.

The United States now limits its aid to refugee and anti-drug assistance.

"There was a sense of betrayal. People felt they had been used. They felt [the United States] had done nothing to help Pakistan," said Khan.

According to State Department reports, there have been several incidents of violence against American officials in Pakistan. In 1979, four people were killed when a mob tried to burn the U.S. Embassy after rumors that the United States had participated in the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. In 1989, an American Cultural Center in Islamabad was attacked. In 1995, two American employees of the consulate in Karachi were killed and one was wounded.

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