Pakistani President Addresses Nation
During a nationwide address on Pakistani television, Musharraf said he had agreed to cooperate in its efforts to find bin Laden, the U.S. government’s prime suspect in last week’s attacks on New York and Washington.
He said national and religious classifications had not played a part in his talks with American leaders.
“Nowhere have the words Islam or the Afghan nation been mentioned,” in discussions between Pakistan and the U.S., he said.
Nonethelesss, Musharraf said, the situation has placed Pakistan in its worst crisis since its 1971 war with neighboring India.
“Pakistan is passing through a very serious time,” he said. “Our decision today will impact on our future.”
Musharraf said he sent a message to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar detailing the seriousness of the situation. Pakistan is one of only three countries that recognizes the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government.
The decision to aid the U.S. has not sat well with some of the Muslim nation’s 140 million people, thousands of whom protested ahead of his speech.
“There will be war until America is destroyed,” one protester told Reuters.
A powerful alliance of Islamic groups warned today joining the hunt for bin Laden could spark a civil war in Pakistan.
According to a recent Gallup poll of 500 Pakistanis, nearly two out of three people polled said they opposed Pakistan joining any U.S.-led coalition that might launch retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports.
A similar ratio opposes Pakistan helping the U.S. find bin Laden. More than half say bin Laden was not responsible for last week’s attacks, blaming instead Israeli or U.S. groups.
Bin Laden himself has denied involvement in the World Trade Center and Pentagon strikes.
Musharraf has been the head of Pakistan’s government since a military coup in 1999. He declared himself president in June.
Part of Musharraf’s address focused on Pakistan’s long-standing feud with India. He accused India of suggesting Pakistan is not completely cooperating with U.S. demands.
“They want Pakistan to be declared a terrorist state and thus damage our Kashmir cause,” Musharraf said. “I want to tell them in English, ‘Lay off’.”
Pakistani officials met with Taliban leaders this week to deliver a U.S. ultimatum to hand over bin Laden or face military strikes. The Taliban are said to be considering the issue.