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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 08:08 GMT
Pakistan's key Iraq decision

By Paul Anderson
BBC correspondent in Islamabad

As the UN Security Council prepares to hold a closed-door meeting on Iraq, Pakistan is running out of time to take a stand on the issue.

US President George W Bush, Colin Powell and the French, Canadian and Saudi foreign ministers have lobbied hard with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and other government leaders.

Pakistan has said it is opposed to war.

That ought to put Pakistan, which is one of the six UN Security Council waverers, in the same camp as France, Russia and Germany.

But it is more complicated than that.

Membership regrets

Ten weeks ago, Pakistan was delighted to be starting its turn on the Security Council.

Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali (R)
Mr Jamali is sensitive to critics in the parliament and outside

Now it is rueing the day.

The government says it has not made up its mind how to vote and will not do until the last moment.

But Prime Minister Jamali has placed a few pointers.

It would be very difficult to support war, he says, to support the destruction of fellow Muslims and their country. Peace should be given a chance.

That would suggest a vote against war, or at least an abstention.

That locks into the mood of the people in Pakistan.

Many are persuaded by arguments that Washington's designs on Iraq are about oil and strengthening its and Israel's power in the region.

Tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets in protests organised by the radical religious parties.

They are demanding the government vote against war.

Washington's favour

But there is far more riding on it for Pakistan to rule out entirely a swing behind the pro-war group.

Pakistani protesters demonstrate against US policy
Pakistani public opinion strongly opposes US military action

Privately, diplomats say it is a possibility.

At stake is Washington's economic and political favour.

Pakistan has benefited handsomely from aligning itself with the United States in its war on terror in the past 18 months.

It is also thinking about life beyond Iraq, in particular, resolving the dispute with India over Kashmir.

Some commentators believe a vote with the pro-war group could assist Pakistan's cause

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