Musharraf backs using foreign troops to stabilize Afghanistan

Thursday, June 26, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Wednesday that he favors deployment of tens of thousands of foreign troops to provincial capitals in Afghanistan where warlord rule threatens the country's stability.

Musharraf said he's been working closely with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and described the proposal to more than double the international security force as a shared effort to fill a power vacuum that developed after U.S. forces toppled the Taliban government in November 2001. He described warlords who "reign supreme" in a dozen important regional centers.

"Unless we occupy this vacuum, this space all around, we will not be able to extend the writ of the government and undermine the writ of the warlords," Musharraf told reporters and editors from The Washington Post.

The Bush administration response to Musharraf's proposal has been lukewarm, according to several U.S. officials. The administration doesn't intend to mobilize such a large effort, although it wouldn't object if another country did so. Instead, the Pentagon has begun deploying units of 50 to 100 soldiers to provincial cities while recruiting other nations to do the same.

Musharraf, addressing an array of subjects in an hour-long conversation, described progress on the reconstruction of Iraq as unsatisfactory and said the U.S. military assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq have hurt the standing of the United States in the Islamic world, where the Bush administration is widely viewed with suspicion and anger.

Troops for Iraq

Pakistan has accepted "in principle" a request by U.S. and British authorities to provide several thousand soldiers to strengthen the shaky security situation in Iraq, Musharraf said, but remains wary about joining the U.S.-led occupation force without colleagues from other Muslim countries or cover from the United Nations. Pakistan also is too poor to afford a deployment, he said.

On Afghanistan, Musharraf spoke of improved relations between neighbors that have a history of interference and mistrust. He said he consulted with Karzai before flying to Washington and speaks regularly with him. One topic of discussion is Musharraf's conviction that archrival India is taking an interest in Afghanistan simply to upset Pakistan.

Musharraf first sketched his ideas for an expanded international military deployment two months ago to U.S. diplomats in Islamabad, according to a U.S. official. The Pakistani leader argued that the International Security Assistance Force confined to Kabul should be greatly expanded if Karzai is to exert stronger control in the country's lawless far corners.

As he discussed security conditions and the limits of Karzai's power Wednesday, Musharraf described about a dozen places in Afghanistan dominated by warlords who answer to no one.

"They are a government within a government. That needs to be changed by bringing their writ down and elevating the writ of the center," said Musharraf, an army general who estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 troops would be needed as Afghanistan slowly creates a police force and an ºarmy.

Bush administration officials, mindful of Karzai's inability to assert control, approve of the essence of Musharraf's idea -- the need to extend the international security presence beyond Kabul.

But they said Wednesday that they see neither the urgency nor the international will to build such a large force.

"The Department of Defense does not oppose an expansion of ISAF outside the capital, but we have not seen any countries that are willing to provide

forces for such an expansion,'' said Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

Instead, the administration is forming ``provincial reconstruction teams'' of 50 to 100 American soldiers each to create a security presence and guide

reforms. U.S. troops are operating in the cities of Gardez, Bamian and Kunduz, while the British expect to move into Mazar-e-Sharif in several weeks. New Zealand is also constructing a team, officials said.

Musharraf is in Washington for meetings with President Bush and his top aides. He journeyed Tuesday to the Camp David presidential retreat, where Bush praised Musharraf for his help in the anti-terror fight and promised a $3 billion increase in military and economic assistance over five years. The Pakistani

leader described the welcome as the ``beginning of the reestablishment'' of a strategic relationship that fell apart during the 1990s.

Despite Musharraf's work against al-Qaida and the fugitive Taliban leadership of Afghanistan, the Bush administration rebuked Pakistan last year over suspect nuclear transfers to North Korea. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he warned Musharraf personally that contact with the Pyongyang government would be ``improper, inappropriate and would have consequences."

Musharraf said the issue belonged to the past and declined to discuss it further. Making clear that the U.S. message had sunk in, he said, ``It is a totally

closed chapter. It's behind us.''

Musharraf described al-Qaida as a scattered presence in the region. Members may continue to live in hiding in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but he maintained

that the organization's ``back has been broken,'' making it ``incapable of any organized military operation.''

Contrary to the White House hope that the Americans would be seen as liberators in Afghanistan and Iraq, Musharraf endorsed a widespread view that

Muslims feel targeted. To make amends, he said, the Bush administration is right to play a troubleshooting role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But he

also said the Islamic world ``needs to do a degree of soul-searching.''

``Is the way forward a way of militancy, extremism and confrontation,'' Musharraf said, ``or is the way forward self-emancipation from the terrible strait of

depredation that all the Muslim world suffers from? They are the most illiterate, the poorest, the most backward.''

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