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Storm over Pervez stand on Iraq troops

Islamabad, June 27 (Reuters): Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has touched off a storm of criticism at home after saying his country could send up to 10,000 troops to Iraq, a fellow Muslim country occupied by the US and Britain.

After meeting President George W. Bush at Camp David on Tuesday and securing an aid pledge of $3 billion for backing the US-led war on terror, Musharraf said Pakistan could provide the troops if certain conditions were met. He said one of the issues would be finance as Pakistan could not be expected to pay for such a large force.

Musharraf’s apparent willingness to assist the US and Britain in Iraq was sharply criticised by political opponents and in newspaper editorials today.

Influential English-language newspaper The News called Musharraf’s statement “surprising”, especially as it had come without any parliamentary debate.

“His undertaking is not likely to be welcomed in the country, where the majority of people view the Americans and the British as an occupation force in Iraq,” it said in an editorial.

“Dispatch of troops... is tantamount to becoming part of an invasion force that subjugated a sovereign state.”

The Dawn newspaper said there was little chance that the UN, the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the Gulf Cooperation Council would get involved in peacekeeping in Iraq.

“In the given context, sending troops to Iraq would be wrong,” it said.

“Cooperating with the US in the war on terror is one thing; helping America perpetuate its hold on Iraq quite another.”

Farhatullah Babar, spokesperson for the Opposition Pakistan People’s Party, said it was “concerned”, and added: “Neither parliament nor the nation have been taken into confidence and we would like General Musharraf to explain his remarks and the facts of his negotiations at Camp David.”

Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a six-party Opposition Islamic alliance, said it rejected any move to send Pakistani troops. “At a time when even the UN is not sending its troops, and alien forces are coming under attack, it is not wise to push our troops in this quagmire,” he said.

There was consternation too in Bangladesh, also a Muslim majority nation. Opposition party leaders warned the government not to accede to a request by US secretary of state Colin Powell that Dhaka send troops to help keep order in Iraq.

Officials said the government was still considering the request, but academics and businessmen said any commitment of troops should only be taken in concert with other Muslim countries.

Bangladesh has a strong record of participating in international peacekeeping, but so far only under UN command. Any departure from that could create problems domestically, including violent protests by radical Islamic groups and Left-wing political parties.

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