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Musharraf to Press Bush For Halt of Afghan Bombing During Ramadan - 2001-11-08

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told reporters in Paris Thursday that he plans to urge President Bush to call a halt to the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan during Ramadan. The Muslim holy month begins next week. Pakistan's chief was in Paris for talks with French leaders and flies to the United States on Friday.

President Pervez Musharraf said he hopes the military operation in Afghanistan will be short and targeted. He told reporters the civilian casualties from U.S. and British strikes are already causing concern and he said continuing the strikes through Ramadan might increase pressure on Muslim countries. "I will take this up with President Bush. And the pressure is the strength of my argument," he said.

President Musharraf said he had expressed these concerns in his talks with French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Also a worry, he said, was the prominent role played in the military operations by the Northern Alliance, which is composed of ethnic-Afghan minorities.

He said it is important that Afghanistan's Pashtun majority, including moderate members of the Taleban, play a role in the country's political future. That suggestion is not likely to be welcomed by the French government, which has expressed doubts there are any moderate members of the Taleban.

President Musharraf also confirmed Pakistan had asked the Taleban to close their consulate in Karachi, but stressed his country would retain political ties with the regime. "Pakistan's diplomatic relations with Afghanistan and the Taleban are useful, and are providing a useful diplomatic window of interaction with them. And it is essential that we maintain it," he said.

Later on Thursday, the Pakistani leader meets with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, before traveling on to the United States.

He praised the European Union for relaxing trade barriers against Pakistan, and said he would be asking President Bush for more trade and financial aid.

President Musharraf also said demonstrations in Pakistan against U.S. strikes had subsided. He said the fact that he could leave the country on a seven-day trip shows his position as leader is secure. And regardless of events, he said, Pakistan will also be holding democratic elections next October.