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Pak students say no to soldiers for Iraq

Islamabad, Aug 21 (Reuters): Thousands of Islamic students rallied in Islamabad today and vowed to resist any moves by the pro-military government to send troops to Iraq.

The US has asked Pakistan to contribute around 10,000 soldiers to Iraq.

Islamabad says it will do so only under the auspices of the UN or the Organisation of Islamic Conference.

About 5,000 students from Islamic seminaries shouted slogans denouncing the US and Israel. Firebrand speakers slammed President Pervez Musharraf who took power in a 1999 coup and is a key ally in the US-led “war on terrorism”.

“We are telling the generals that we will stop them if they try to send troops to Iraq under the command of the US,” said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, head of the country’s largest hardline Islamic group — Jamaat-e-Islami.

“This will create a huge gulf between you and the people,” he warned Musharraf.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani spoke by telephone to the student gathering, drawing wild applause.

Musharraf’s support for the US-led military action that toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has incensed hardline Islamic groups, which have issued a fatwa, or religious decree, against sending Pakistani troops to Iraq.

The standoff between the Islamists and Musharraf intensified after the general called earlier this year for a debate over recognising Israel, a country with which Pakistan has no ties .

He has also angered hardliners by trying to reform Islamic seminaries which have served as breeding grounds for violent groups like the Taliban and still teach thousands of students.

Pakistan today pledged to do all it could to support Afghanistan’s US-backed government. Speaking after talks in Kabul, Pakistan’s foreign minister Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri angrily rejected charges Pakistani troops had crossed into Afghan territory and vowed closer consultations to counter the work of “spin masters”.

Kasuri told a news conference Pakistan and Afghanistan were “tied to each other almost like twins and when one sneezes then the other catches flu”.

“We will do everything that we can to support the present government,” Kasuri said, referring to the administration of President Hamid Karzai.

Officials of Karzai’s government have repeatedly said that bloody attacks by a resurgent Taliban guerrilla force have been orchestrated from Pakistan, the main backer of the group before joining the US-led “war on terror” in 2001.

They have also accused their neighbour of grabbing territory along their long border. When these charges swirled in July, a mob in Kabul attacked Pakistan’s embassy in reprisal.

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