| A boy sells toy flowers at Muree hill station in Pakistan. (AFP)
Islamabad, July 21: Pakistan today welcomed the installation of the governing council in Iraq as a step in the right direction and dropped the first hint that it may send troops to Iraq only if there was an international cover for a peacekeeping force.
“There are other developments in the area and we would keep responding to the evolving situation. However, let me tell you that no decision has been made yet on sending troops troops to Iraq,” foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan said at his regular Monday briefing.
He said the government was very sensitive to public opinion and assured that the sentiment of the people of Pakistan would be respected.
Both the US and Britain had requested Pakistan for two army divisions which would be part of an international peacekeeping force in Iraq.
President Pervez Musharraf had received the requests during his recent visits to London and Washington DC. But he has since reiterated on various occasions that Pakistan would send troops only if there was an international cover for peacekeepers in Iraq.
Musharraf had stressed that such a force should at least have the sanction of the 52-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) if not the United Nations.
The US state department had late last week said that Pakistan had rejected its request for sending troops to Iraq. However, the Pakistani spokesman called it an incorrect understanding of its position.
“We are still looking at the request and waiting to see the kind of modalities that might be worked out for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force in a Muslim country,” Masood Khan said.
Most Opposition parties here had reacted adversely to the suggestion that Islamabad might be sending its troops to Iraq. This had forced the government to fall back on the condition for international cover.
The Jamaat- e-Islami and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, whose head Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee yesterday, had led fierce protests against the US-led invasion of Iraq and demanded that the government condemn these attacks.
Observers believe the demand for an international cover appeared to be a move to wriggle out of the obligation without annoying either the US or Britain.