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Musharraf Rebuffed in His Call for Bombing Cessation During Ramadan

Diplomacy: Pakistan's leader is greeted warmly in Paris and London. But Blair says the military campaign must continue.


LONDON — On his first diplomatic tour since the start of the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan's military ruler received a warm welcome from French and British leaders Thursday. But his plea for a halt in the U.S.-led bombing for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was rebuffed.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in stops in Paris and London on his way to meet President Bush in New York, called for a "short and targeted" military campaign in Afghanistan.

"One would certainly hope that the military operation comes to an end as fast as possible, as swiftly as possible, before the month of Ramadan," he told reporters after talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing St.

Blair, however, responded that although the West is aware of Muslim sensitivities, the month-old campaign "must continue ultimately until the objectives are secured."

After seizing power in a coup two years ago and then backing the extremist Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan, Musharraf was shunned by the West. But after Sept. 11, he made a quick U-turn and threw his support behind the U.S. war against the prime suspect in the terror attacks, Osama bin Laden, and his Taliban hosts.

He has allowed U.S. forces to use Pakistani bases for search-and-rescue missions in Afghanistan and has clamped down on Taliban diplomats who were conducting a propaganda war from Pakistan. He also has contained anti-American protests and imposed tight controls along the border with Afghanistan.

In return, the West has stopped treating Pakistan as a pariah state and supported Musharraf's bid to reschedule some of the country's $36-billion foreign debt. Some U.S. economic sanctions have been lifted and Musharraf is lobbying for more aid.

"You can be assured of our complete and total support in the development of Pakistan in the future," Blair assured him.

Political analysts saw Musharraf's departure from his capital, Islamabad, as a show of confidence amid growing internal opposition to his backing for the U.S.-led war, although he slipped out of town unannounced and made unexpected stops to consult with other Muslim leaders in Turkey and Iran.

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan and a refugee crisis have fueled anger in the Muslim world, where many people are not convinced that Bin Laden and the Taliban bear any responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Aware of the need to win public opinion, the United States and Britain have been stressing that this is an international coalition with military contributions from 12 countries, including Turkey, and political support from leaders such as Musharraf and Jordan's King Abdullah II, who was also in London on Thursday.

Speaking to Parliament on behalf of what he called the "too rarely heard Arab majority," Abdullah said the suicide hijackings in the United States were an affront to humanity that required a response.

"There is a military dimension, which must be exercised with caution, but always with unflinching resolve," the Jordanian leader said. "An even more important role is, and will be, played by other means--economic measures, diplomacy and the free flow of truth."

When Blair tried making a similar case during a Middle East tour last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad used a joint news conference to blast the coalition, accusing it of killing civilians.

Musharraf stopped in Paris to see President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and made his case for a pause in the bombing during Ramadan.

Ramadan, which will begin around Nov. 17, commemorates the revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad nearly 1,400 years ago. Its observance is one of the five pillars, or essential religious requirements, of Islam.

Many Muslim leaders and political analysts believe that continuing the bombing in Afghanistan during the holy month would undermine U.S. and British assertions that this is not a Christian war against Islam, as many in the Muslim world believe.

"It will have a negative fallout in the entire Muslim world," Musharraf said in Paris. Already, he said, the bombing is being perceived "as if this is a war against the poor, miserable, innocent people of Afghanistan."

He said he would make a similar case to Bush. In Washington, however, Wendy Chamberlin, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, shrugged off Musharraf's calls for a bombing halt during Ramadan.

"He would like to see the bombing stopped," Chamberlin said. "So would I."

But she said the Bush administration and the Pakistani government are in complete agreement "that this effort to go after the terrorists ought to continue in full until the objectives are reached."


Times staff writer Norman Kempster in Washington contributed to this report.

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