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Pak tells West: Fret less about Osama

Berlin, Dec. 4 (Reuters): Pakistan’s foreign minister said yesterday that Western powers should fret less about Osama bin Laden and pay more attention to the root causes of militancy such as poverty.

There is too much focus on the person of Osama,” Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri told Reuters during a visit to the German capital.

He was referring to the Saudi-born fugitive who heads the al Qaida network blamed for the September 11 attacks and who has since been the subject of a massive, international manhunt.

“What can help immensely is economic development. Extremism is engendered by poverty. So if the West were to concentrate on economic development in the Third World and in the Muslim world, that would to a very large extent take care of that,” he said.

“See what happened in Europe after World War II: the Marshall Plan. It was able to take care of a large number of countries going the democratic way rather than the other way.”

Under the Plan, Washington poured money into a Europe devastated by World War II to rebuild it and stave off the threat posed by Commmunists supported by the then Soviet Union.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has backed the US campaign in Afghanistan and its “war on terror” after September 11 last year. Yet he has faced a strong backlash from his people, reflected in growing anti-US sentiment.

Kasuri said bin Laden, believed by Western intelligence to be in the Pakistani-Afghan border region, was unlikely to be hiding in Pakistan, even though a recording of the al Qaida leader was released there last month.

“It is a pure matter of common sense. If a man wants you to believe he is in Pakistan and the whole world is after him, it’s a fair deduction to conclude that he is not in Pakistan,” Kasuri said. “It is not easy to hide yourself when there are 70,000 troops looking for you, with the help of American experts.”

“Osama is taller than most Pakistanis. He is six foot four inches. He would stand out.”

He said said there are 15 to 20 US experts helping the 70,000 Pakistani soldiers search for al Qaida members inside Pakistani territory.

A top German intelligence official said last week that bin Laden was likely to be hiding in Pakistan along the Afghan border.

The FBI believes that many of its “Most Wanted Terrorists”, including bin Laden, are still in or very near Afghanistan.

Nearly 8,000 US soldiers are among international coalition forces in Afghanistan hunting remnants of the Taliban and the al Qaida network, Washington’s prime suspects in the September 11 attacks.

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