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Pak Islamists seek fatwa over sending troops

Islamabad, Aug. 9 (Reuters): Pakistan’s hardline Islamic groups, locked in a bitter standoff with the pro-military government, said today they would seek a fatwa or religious decree against dispatching Pakistani troops to Iraq.

Pakistan, a key ally in what Washington calls its “war on terror”, has been asked by the US to send around 10,000 soldiers to Iraq to help secure the post-war peace.

Fazal-ur-Rehman, a central leader of the main anti-US Islamic alliance, said a council of top religious scholars had been set up to issue the fatwa next week. “A council has been formed to issue a fatwa that serving of Muslim troops under the command of the US is un-Islamic,” he told a news conference.

“The military rulers have no constitutional, religious and legal right to send troops to Iraq.” Islamabad, which backed the US in its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, says it has agreed in principle to send troops to Iraq. But military President Pervez Musharraf said last month he would prefer his troops to serve under the auspices of the UN or the Organisation of Islamic Conference. “We condemn the government’s decision to send troops to Iraq,” Rehman said.

The condemnation by the radical Islamic coalition came as a senior British government minister was quoted today as saying that Britain wanted to make it easier for countries including India, Pakistan and Turkey to join a UN-backed multilateral peacekeeping force.

International development Secretary Baroness Valerie Amos told the Daily Telegraph that the US and Britain were ready to support a new UN resolution that would give these countries the domestic cover they needed to contribute troops.

Hardline Muslim groups that made stunning gains in last October elections by tapping anti-American sentiments over the US-led war in neighbouring Afghanistan strongly oppose Musharraf’s close ties with the US.

The Islamists are also locked in a long-running standoff with Musharraf over the military’s dominant role in politics.

They want him to step down as chief of army staff or as president and withdraw controversial constitutional amendments.

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