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Pakistan cooperative so far, officials say

©Washington Post

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 15, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- President Pervez Musharraf and his senior military commanders, facing growing pressure from the United States, agreed Friday to meet U.S. demands for cooperation in efforts against Saudi fugitive Osama Bin Laden, according to senior government officials.

Pakistan's military leadership consented to opening Pakistani air space to possible missile attacks and aerial bombardment in Afghanistan, where the ruling Taleban militia is harboring bin Laden, the lead suspect in Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the United States. Officials also said they would share intelligence with the United States on bin Laden's operations and would attempt to tighten the illegal movement of fuel and other supplies across Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials said the United States had not requested permission to put troops in Pakistan but that the Pakistani military would adamantly oppose such a move. In addition, the generals would not allow the military to participate in any attacks against Afghanistan, officials said.

The agreements, reached in a four-hour meeting of Musharraf and the top military leadership, came after pointed debate over the potential for cooperation with United States causing a violent domestic backlash from religious groups and others inside Pakistan who support the Taleban, the Washington Post reported, citing senior government officials familiar with the discussions.

While most of the requests from the United States so far are not considered excessively sensitive for Pakistan, the leadership's prompt agreement sets a cooperative tone for negotiations that could become far more volatile as the United States develops more fully plans for retaliation against bin Laden and his operations in Afghanistan.

The discussions between U.S. and Pakistani authorities -- including telephone calls from Secretary of State Colin Powell to Musharraf -- mark a new urgency to years-long efforts by the United States to push Pakistan into taking greater action against bin Laden and his Taleban supporters.

Pakistani officials also have asked the Taleban's leader, Mohammad Omar, to surrender bin Laden, the Post reported, quoting a senior Pakistani official. The Pakistanis reportedly told Taleban authorities that giving up bin Laden could possibly defuse U.S. threats of retaliation against their extremist Islamic movement.

The Taleban's envoy to Pakistan, reading a statement on behalf of Omar on Friday, continued to insist that bin Laden had no role in Tuesday's terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

During Musharraf's emergency session with the army's senior corps commanders, many of the generals expressed concerns that supporting the United States in operations against bin Laden could result in a serious civil backlash in Pakistan, where the Taleban enjoys strong public support.

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