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Pakistan May Harbor More al-Qaida Members - 2003-03-05

Following the arrest in Pakistan of alleged al-Qaida leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistan diplomat says his country probably harbors few other senior members of the terrorist organization. He says those who are in his country are probably hiding in cities.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks, was found Saturday in a private home in a middle class neighborhood near the capital, Rawalpindi.

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Islamabad's ambassador to Washington, says Pakistan probably does not harbor many al-Qaida members, but those who are in his country are probably hiding in cities, just as Mr. Mohammed was. He was staying in the family home of a native of Pakistan. "The cities tend to be more impersonal, more anonymous, crowded and therefore relatively speaking, it's more difficult to track them," he says.

The ambassador says Pakistan has already found more than 500 suspected members of al-Qaida and handed them over to the United States.

The Pakistan diplomat spoke in Los Angeles on security in South Asia, but in separate remarks to reporters, he commented on the growing prospect of war in Iraq. He says his government hopes any action by Britain and the United States will be based on a broad consensus. "And we'd like to see the prospect of war altogether averted, because that would entail colossal suffering for the Iraqi people," he says.

Mr. Qazi says his government hopes Iraq will yet comply with United Nations demands to surrender its banned weapons. He says a U.S. and British invasion without explicit U.N. backing would cause problems in his country. "The government wouldn't fall, but we would be confronted with an irate public opinion. There is no doubt about it," he says. "And that is why it's been our stand to insist that Iraq comply fully with the U.N. resolutions, particularly, the latest 1441, but indeed all of them."

The Pakistan diplomat says war, should it come, would be the easy part. He says the case of Afghanistan shows rebuilding is not easy. "What follows will be the more difficult part, and that's likely to preoccupy the attention of a whole lot of people, including the United States. Afghanistan could suffer from a lack of attention."

The Pakistan diplomat cautions that ignoring Afghanistan would be bad for his region, where the threat of terrorism continues, and two nuclear powers, his country and India, are locked in a border struggle over the region of Kashmir.