Blair pledges post-Taliban role for Pakistanis

1,000 U.S. troops head for Uzbekistan base

Terrorism Strikes America

The Response

October 06, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan --- In meetings yesterday that vividly illuminated the world's rearranged politics, British Prime Minister Tony Blair assured Pakistan's leaders that they would help determine any successor to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, while U.S. officials conferred with Uzbekistan about the arrival of U.S. troops there.

"The 11th of September has changed the world," said Blair, who was scheduled to head to India later last night.

In Islamabad, Blair thanked Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf for siding with the West in the campaign against terrorism.

"Nations make their choices as to whether they will help in the fight against international terrorism or will stand aside," Blair said. "I believe that Pakistan has made the right choice. The result will be a significant and lasting strengthening of the outside world's relations with Pakistan."

With 1,000 U.S. troops on the way to a base in Uzbekistan, the former Soviet republic's president, Islam Karimov, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld held a joint news conference in the capital, Tashkent.

Though unwilling to permit military operations in his country, Karimov told Rumsfeld that U.S. troops could use an Uzbek airbase for humanitarian and rescue missions.

"We are against the usage of our territory for land operations against Afghanistan," Karimov said. "We do not have any guarantees that tomorrow we will not find ourselves face to face with these terrible terrorist forces, and so we do not want to allow ourselves to be used by anyone."

In Washington, analysts said that Karimov's refusal to allow strikes from his territory was unfortunate but suggested that U.S. operations there might be quietly expanded.

"The announcement was not helpful on the surface, because there aren't too many places where you can get special ops [operations] troops any closer," Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution told Reuters. "Pakistan is out. Iran is out. We don't know about Tajikistan."

Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said there is room to maneuver.

"But there is a gray area in which humanitarian and rescue missions might be expanded with the use of protective fighter jets," he said.

The sight of Western powers embracing two countries they had previously viewed with varying degrees of suspicion was startling. Pakistan and Uzbekistan had been criticized in the West for repressive aspects of their governments. That changed after the terrorist attacks in the United States last month, and their new status was recognized in yesterday's high-level visits.

Blair not only praised Musharraf, who took power in a military coup, but also pledged economic support for Pakistan's beleaguered economy and thanked the Muslim nation for playing a vital role in the effort to combat terrorism.

`A valid interest'

He promised Pakistan that it would have a role in determining Afghanistan's post-Taliban government.

"We've agreed that if the current Taliban regime fails to yield up [Osama] bin Laden and it falls, that its successor must be broad-based with every key ethnic grouping represented, including the Pashtun," Blair said during a brief question-and-answer period with reporters as Musharraf stood by his side.

"Pakistan has a valid interest in close involvement in how such a successor regime might be established."

The Pashtun ethnic group makes up 38 percent of Afghanistan's population and a majority of the Taliban's leadership.

Pakistan, which has a 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan, is the only country that maintains diplomatic relations with the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalists who control about 90 percent of Afghanistan. Pakistan helped create the Taliban in the 1990s, in part so that it could have a secure western border.

Musharraf is the first leader of a Muslim nation to endorse the U.S. and British contention that evidence clearly links bin Laden to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"I personally ... and my government feels that there is evidence leading to an association between this terrorist act and Osama bin Laden," said Musharraf, who wore a gray business suit instead of his khaki military uniform. "However, we are not standing in judgment on the details of this evidence."

Blair said yesterday that three of the 19 suspected hijackers had been identified as bin Laden associates. He did not identify any of them or offer further details.

Blair's whirlwind visit to Pakistan -- it lasted only a few hours -- was designed to bolster Musharraf and his military government in this Muslim nation and in the region.

A vocal minority of Islamic fundamentalists has protested Musharraf's support for the United States against Afghanistan, a fellow Muslim nation. Musharraf has promised to permit planes to fly over his country and to provide intelligence and logistical support to the United States as it positions aircraft carriers off the coast in the Arabian Sea.

Musharraf once shunned

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