Ramadan adds new urgency

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Muslim allies, whose support is considered essential to the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign, are pressuring the United States to score a major victory on the ground before the Islamic holy month Ramadan begins around Nov. 17 or agree to a delay in the Afghan operation.

"Emotionally, it will be, I think, explosive ... if military actions are still being done in Afghanistan" during Ramadan, Indonesia's foreign minister, Hasan Wirayuda, warned Sunday during a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, perhaps the strongest Muslim backer of the air campaign against Afghan-istan, has also warned of a Muslim backlash if intense fighting continues during Ramadan.

During an appearance Monday on CNN's "Larry King Live," Musharraf said he hoped "that this campaign comes to an end before the month of Ramadan, and one would hope for restraint during the month of Ramadan."

Such a delay, however, would cost the United States considerable momentum at a critical period. By the end of Ramadan, the harsh Afghan winter will have set in, closing key passes through the mountains and limiting air and ground operations.

Rumsfeld: No deadline

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has played down the Ramadan factor, maintaining there is no deadline for completing U.S. military action in Afghanistan.

"History is replete with instances where Muslim nations have fought among themselves or with other countries during various important holy days for their religion, and it has not inhibited them historically," he said Tuesday.

Not all Ramadans inspire the spirit of the Christmas truces of World War I, when some British and German soldiers swapped cigarettes and played soccer. The Egyptians and Syrians started the 1973 war on Israel during Ramadan. And there's been no tradition of pausing for Ramadan during Afghanistan's civil war.

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