Pakistanis killed near U.S. Consulate

Deaths come as diplomat asks for support on Iraq

March 01, 2003|By Mubashir Zaidi and Paul Watson | Mubashir Zaidi and Paul Watson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Gunmen killed two Pakistani policemen and injured five other people yesterday at a guard post outside the U.S. Consulate in the southern port city of Karachi as a senior U.S. diplomat was in the country trying to win support for a war on Iraq.

The two attackers fled, but one was arrested later, Deputy Police Chief Tariq Jamil told reporters. In June, a suicide car bomber struck at the consulate, killing 12 Pakistanis. Members of the banned Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen Al-Almi, a longtime ally of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, are on trial in that attack.

Yesterday's shooting occurred as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca was in the capital, Islamabad, urging Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to back military action against Iraq.

Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim nation allied with Washington in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism, is one of 10 nonpermanent members of the U.N. Security Council and is seen as a crucial swing vote on a new resolution to disarm Iraq. Washington wants Pakistan's vote to counter the widespread view among Muslims, including many Pakistanis, that a war with Iraq would be an attack on Islam.

A senior Interior Ministry official said Musharraf approved special security measures in January to deal with any unrest over a war in Iraq and said the government doesn't expect a serious backlash if it supports the United States. Early this week, Pakistani diplomats at the United Nations indicated that the country was leaning toward voting with the United States in the Security Council.

The Foreign Ministry insisted yesterday that the government hasn't decided how it will vote.

"Pakistan will take a decision on the new resolution on Iraq at the U.N. Security Council on the basis of principles and has not signaled to anyone in support or against the resolution," Tariq Usman Haider, an official in the Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Islamabad.

He said Pakistan is studying the resolution as well as a proposal by France and Germany to give U.N. weapons inspectors until at least this summer to continue their search.

An Iraqi envoy met Musharraf on yesterday in Islamabad, and in the meeting the president "underlined Iraq's responsibility for complete and immediate verifiable disarmament," according to an official statement.

After meeting with Foreign Ministry officials, the State Department's Rocca also held talks with Musharraf, who seized power in 1999 coup. He is in a difficult position on the Iraq issue: He is the leader of the only Muslim nation that is a declared nuclear power, and he is fighting to control Islamic extremism.

Musharraf's government is also facing increasing criticism from U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan. They complain that Pakistan is a sanctuary for al-Qaida and former Taliban fighters and question privately whether Musharraf is really committed to stopping them.

Mubashir Zaidi and Paul Watson write for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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