| Musharraf Roma Naeem, sister of slain Pakistani hostage Sajjid Naeem, weeps at her home in Hurna Mehra village north of Islamabad. (Reuters)
Islamabad, July 29 (Reuters): Pakistan has discussed sending troops to Iraq as part of an Islamic force but has not made any decision, officials said today, as outrage welled up in the country over the killing of two citizens held hostage in Iraq.
President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain issued a joint statement condemning the execution of the two migrant workers employed by an Arab firm doing contract work for a US company in Iraq.
“Those who have committed this crime have caused the greatest harm both to humanity and Islam,” the leaders said in the statement after Al Jazeera television said it had received a videotape of the executions that was too gruesome to broadcast.
The killings came as Islamabad grappled with a Saudi proposal for Arab and Muslim nations other than Iraq’s immediate neighbours to provide troops to help secure the country.
US secretary of state Colin Powell, in Saudi Arabia on a tour of West Asia, telephoned Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri to express sorrow over the deaths.
A foreign ministry statement said they also talked on Pakistan’s peace talks with India and the situation in Iraq.
Officials also confirmed Prime Minister Hussain discussed a possible joint Muslim force when he met Saudi leaders in Jeddah at the weekend.
“The Prime Minister was briefed about the idea of an Islamic force which had been earlier mooted in the conference of Iraq’s neighbouring countries held in Cairo just prior to the visit,” foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan said.
Speculation that Pakistan would commit troops mounted this month after the appointment of Pakistan’s former envoy to Washington, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, as UN special envoy for Iraq.
Such a move would be hugely unpopular at home and observers say the killings of the hostages will make any decision more difficult for Musharraf, who already faces stiff opposition from hardline groups for his role in supporting the US war on terror.
Kasuri told the National Assembly, parliament’s lower house, that a decision on sending troops to Iraq was still in the balance.
“We had repeatedly told the kidnappers that we have not yet taken a decision on sending troops to Iraq but despite that they have killed both,” Kasuri told parliament today.
Pakistan has long resisted US entreaties to send troops to help restore security in Iraq, saying it would only do so under a UN mandate and so long as other Muslim nations were involved and provided they were welcomed by the Iraqi government.
Today, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, speaking in Saudi Arabia where he met Powell, said troops from Arab and other Islamic states would be welcome.
The conservative Islamist opposition believes Pakistan should stay out of Iraq.
“Pakistan’s overall foreign policy is very unpopular,” said Ameerul Azeem, secretary information of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a key component of the Islamic opposition alliance — the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).
“The threat to Pakistanis working in the Gulf and the Middle East has increased after the government hinted at sending troops to Iraq,” he said.