Musharraf seeks fast end to attacks

Northern Alliance is warned by Pakistani president

War On Terrorism

The World

October 08, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - In the wake of U.S. and British attacks on Afghanistan, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said today that the joint military action should be quick and efficient and that "the Northern Alliance must not draw mileage out of this action."

The president also urged international businesses and foreigners working in Pakistan not to abandon the country in time of war and expressed confidence that his military regime could control the attempts by Islamic fundamentalists to foment unrest here.

"I have got definite assurances that this operation will be short, targeted, and also it should not be having collateral damage," Musharraf said in a morning news conference in the national library. "This operation should not be perceived as against Afghanistan or the people of Afghanistan. It is an action against terrorism and their sanctuaries and their supporters."

Musharraf's threat to the Northern Alliance, which is expected to become the main fighting force against the Taliban in the U.S.-led attack, hinted at a potential rift in the coalition if the rebel army tries to seize political advantage in the battle for control of the country.

As fundamentalist opponents prepared to launch rallies against Musharraf's support for the missile attacks and airstrikes, the president said that the vast majority of the country supports his position and that he could handle any attempts at protest.

"I'm very sure that this will be very, very controllable, and we will meet the situation as it comes," said Musharaff, who wore his khaki military uniform.

Yesterday, Musharraf engineered a major reshuffle in the nation's military leadership. The move appeared designed to bolster his support and sideline any leaders who might be sympathetic to the Taliban, which Pakistan had supported until the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Musharraf, though, denied the rearrangement had any connection to the military strike.

"It has no relationship whatsoever with the events that are taking place in Afghanistan," he said. "I was wearing too many hats, and some changes had to take place in the army."

One of the generals Musharraf removed was Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, who was chief of the Inter Services Intelligence, or ISI, the military-civilian agency that had been coordinating Pakistan's relations with the Taliban since before the movement took power in 1996, a government security official said.

Gen. Aziz Khan, formerly responsible for Pakistani operations in Afghanistan and regarded as the most pro-Taliban officer among the senior ranks, was removed as commander of the Eastern Lahore region, the official added.

Musharraf, a military dictator, has pledged full support for the United States and the global effort to fight terrorism. Despite some vocal opposition at home, he has given the United States overflight privilege to attack Afghanistan. He has also promised to help with intelligence and logistical support.

Musharraf's approval was critical to yesterday's attack. Missiles and planes launched from U.S. and British ships in the Arabian Sea came in over the deserts of southern Pakistan with the president's blessing.

Of the neighboring states supporting the military attack on Afghanistan, the fellow Muslim country of Pakistan may face the greatest potential for unrest. Although the majority of people in this nation of 141 million are political moderates, there is a small but committed core of Islamic fundamentalists with close ties to Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

As bombs and missiles crashed into major Afghan cities yesterday, militant religious leaders here called for protests and a jihad, or holy war, against the United States.

"It is the duty of every Muslim to support their brothers in this critical hour," said Riaz Durana, leader of the influential Afghan Defense Council in the eastern city of Lahore, which issued a call for holy war. "We will support the Taliban physically and morally against the aggression of America."

Pakistan's military regime has outlawed demonstrations since Musharraf ousted unpopular President Nawaz Sharif in a coup in 1999. As the United States prepared for an attack on the Taliban and suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden in recent weeks, though, Musharraf has permitted street protests.

Most have been mild, with spirited but ritualized burnings of effigies of President Bush.

The real test of the power of Pakistan's fundamentalist Islamic parties and the resolve of the Musharraf regime will begin today after afternoon prayers.

Riot police were already out in force last night, and scattered protests were reported this morning.

Pakistani police armed with tear gas, riot shields, helmets, wooden poles and machine guns took up positions in sensitive areas around this quiet, leafy city of 500,000 after missiles began striking targets. Police and soldiers were deployed in other major cities in Pakistan as well.

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