Nirupama Subramanian

Bid to douse anti-Musharraf feelings

ISLAMABAD: In an indication of the intense negative feelings in Pakistan about the Musharraf regime's military co-operation with the U.S., Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri had to issue on Saturday a strenuous denial of remarks attributed to him that had the Government not backed the Bush Administration, the country would have ended up like Iraq or Afghanistan.

Mr. Kasuri was reported as telling a parliamentary Committee on Foreign Relations that siding with the U.S. in the war on terror was not a choice but a compulsion.

Newspapers reported details of the meeting, in which the leader of a faction of the Jamaat-e-ulema-Islami, Maulana Samiul Haq, berated the Foreign Minister for surrendering Pakistan's foreign policy to the U.S., and blamed this for the loss of many innocent lives in the country.

Sentiments against the Musharraf regime and the U.S. are running high following last week's airstrike on a madrassa in Bajaur in the north-west in which 80 persons were killed.

Religious political parties have refused to accept the Government version that the military had taken out a training centre for pro-Taliban militants.

The widespread belief is that innocents were targeted, that the U.S. carried out the strike, and that Pakistan owned up to it to avoid a domestic fall-out.

On Friday, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal held countrywide protests after the Jumma prayers.

Most cities in the North-West Frontier Province observed a complete shut-down in protest.

There were demonstrations in other parts of the country, with protestors raising anti-U.S. and anti-Musharraf slogans.

At the Senate Committee meeting, some members are reported to have described the Bajaur incident as a foreign policy "failure, with Mr. Kasuri responding that the Foreign Ministry had nothing to do with it, and that it was more a matter for the Ministries of Defence and Interior.

The recent Lebanon crisis and the U.S.-Iran standoff were among the instances he cited of Pakistan's independence from the U.S.

He also said Pakistan had decided to go ahead with Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline despite opposition from the U.S., had not backed the U.N. Security Council resolution authorising the attack on Iraq, and had not allowed international investigators access to the disgraced nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan to question him about his self-confessed nuclear proliferation.