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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 20:39 GMT
Analysis: Pakistan outlines unease
President General Pervez Musharraf and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Pakistan wants a swift end to the air strikes
Daniel Lak

Donald Rumsfeld was in Pakistan for just a short time but that is more a function of perceived security risks than any sense that this country is diminishing in importance in the war against terrorism.

In fact, his few hours of meetings and discussions in Islamabad were probably the most important of his current whirlwind tour of coalition allies in Asia.

President Pervez Musharaf of Pakistan is - in public - still a staunch backer of America's strikes against Afghanistan.

But unease is growing in his country that the relentless bombing of a neighbouring Muslim state is producing few positive results.

Immense concerns

Heavy security prevented Mr Rumsfeld from seeing any of that dismay for himself.

However it can be safely assumed that President Musharaf told the Defence Secretary that a quick, successful outcome to the air campaign, and whatever comes next, was crucial to the stability of Pakistan.

President General Pervez Musharraf
President Musharraf: Publicly backs air strikes

Otherwise protests, until now confined to radical Islamic groups, could spread to mainstream political parties and other groups.

Pakistan also has immense concerns about the make-up of any future Afghan government. That is not unexpected.

So do all the other regional states that Mr Rumsfeld is touring.

But as President Musharaf has almost certainly pointed out, Pakistan cannot abide a hostile regime in Kabul.

Its own Pashtun tribal population will expect Afghan Pashtuns to be strongly represented in any new government.

None of this is to say that Islamabad is free to draw up wishlists and present them to visiting American officials.

Influential voice

On the contrary, the decision to support Washington is something that is seen in official circles here as irreversible, even if dismay over endless bombing, civilian casualties and unachieved objectives creates problems for the Musharaf government.

Afghan refugees in Jaloi tent in a Pakistan camp
Pakistanis want aid to deal with the Afghan refugees

The only way that President Musharaf can remain an influential voice is to stay a part of the American-led coalition and make his suggestions in private, to people like Mr Rumsfeld.

What most Pakistanis want to know is how much longer the Americans will bomb Afghanistan, and whether they are willing to consider even a token pause for the holy month of Ramadan.

They also want their president to press for more and more economic aid to help with a declining economy and a growing Afghan refugee burden.

That may be something that Pakistan can count on.

Changes in the military campaign are another matter as American resolve to keep up the pressure on the Taleban seems only to be getting stronger.

See also:

20 Sep 01 | Americas
Profile: Donald Rumsfeld
24 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Kashmir threat to coalition
15 Oct 01 | South Asia
Thousands cross into Pakistan illegally
04 Nov 01 | South Asia
US rejects Pakistan Ramadan plea
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