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Pak terms for Iraq troops

Islamabad, Aug. 4 (Reuters): Pakistan said today it was under no pressure to send troops to Iraq and would only do so if they were part of a broader international effort, and if the Iraqi people supported such a move.

Pakistan, a key ally of the US in its war against terror, has been asked by Washington to send around 10,000 soldiers to Iraq to help secure the post-war peace. “A decision has been taken in principle, it means we shall be willing to send troops to Iraq, but certain conditions have to be met,” Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson Masood Khan told a news conference.

“There has to be a particular environment for sending the troops, and the environment is defined by the legitimacy of the cover, and the other factor is whether or not the people of Iraq would be hospitable to this kind of mission,” he added.

President Pervez Musharraf said last month he had agreed in principle to send troops, but would prefer to do so under the auspices of the UN, the Organisation of Islamic Conference or another legitimate international body.

“The matter is still under review and no decision has been taken. I think this decision will be taken by the cabinet keeping in view the sentiments of the people of Pakistan,” Khan said.

The US is trying to convince its Asian allies to share the peacekeeping burden.

Washington has also been pressing India to send troops to Iraq, a request New Delhi turned down saying it could not join peacekeeping operations in Iraq without a clear UN mandate.

Hardline Muslim groups in Pakistan strongly oppose Musharraf’s close ties with the US. They are also against an initiative to open a debate on recognising Israel.

Pakistan has always shied away from open discussion on Israel recognition, and only in recent months has the issue been publicly debated. “Yes, a debate has been started and this has broken the taboo that the question of Pakistan’s relationship with Israel cannot be discussed openly and publicly,” Khan said.

He said Pakistan was closely watching developments in West Asia, including the implementation of the US-backed road map for peace.

“We are looking at the relationship between the PLO and Israel, how things are shaping up in West Asia, what steps are being taken to protect and promote the rights of the Palestinian people,” Khan said.

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