Pakistan's foreign minister says his country would consider contributing troops to help provide security in Iraq, but must consider domestic political repercussions before it makes any such move.
Answering questions from an audience in Washington Friday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri said Pakistan has not yet been asked to contribute any troops to a possible U.N. force in Iraq - but might be willing to do so.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington research institute, Mr. Kasuri said Pakistan has proudly contributed troops to eight of the 14 current U.N. peacekeeping missions, and would not shirk "international responsibilities." But, he added, Pakistan's decision on Iraq will also depend on the wording of any U.N. resolution, as well as the composition of the Iraqi governing authority to which the United States will relinquish some measure of sovereignty on June 30.
"But we have to be careful, we have to be mindful, of the sentiments of our own people. So it must look like the people of Iraq are inviting Pakistanis. If that is the case, I am sure the people of Pakistan would like to help the people of Iraq. Beyond that at the moment I can't tell you if we will be in a position to send our troops. That depends on the U.N. resolution, that depends on the administration that comes into being in Iraq."
He said he has told U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, that Pakistan cannot make any decision on Iraq that is seen to be what he called an "extension of the U.S. occupation."
"We're answerable to our people," he said. "And our people at a minimum would wish not to be considered - any Pakistani troops not to be considered - an extension of occupation. The United States knows that. We have not hidden that from the United States."
Anti-U.S. sentiment is strong in Pakistan, over not only the invasion of Iraq, but the cooperation Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has extended to U.S.-led efforts to clean out pockets of pro-Taleban Islamic extremists along the Pakistan-Afghan border. For the first time since the days of British rule, Pakistani troops have entered previously autonomous tribal areas along the border to root out the sanctuaries.
Mr. Kasuri said the Musharraf government has recruited tribal militias to go after the militants, in place of the army. He said that gives the residents of tribal areas a genuine stake in the effort to root out foreign pro-Taleban fighters from their territory.
"We want the people to own the process," he said. "We don't want the people to feel that President Musharraf is doing America's bidding, that the Pakistan Army is executing America's foreign policy. We want them to believe that it is in the interest of Pakistan and of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas that no foreigner be provided any quarter."
Mr. Kasuri added that the Pakistan has fully cooperated with U.S. anti-nuclear proliferation efforts, saying that the government has shared all information about the activities of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.