INTERNATIONAL

Musharraf discusses possibility of troops for Iraq to guard U.N. mission

ISLAMABAD, JULY 24. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf interacted with the top brass of the Pakistan Foreign Office on the feasibility of the country contributing troops to guard the United Nations mission as and when it is established in Iraq.

Among those present included Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar. Since the appointment of its U.S. Ambassador in Washington, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi as the U.N. Special Envoy in Iraq, there has been speculation in the media that it is linked to the contribution of Pakistani troops in Iraq.

Three days ago, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan disclosed that Islamabad has laid down two conditions for the contribution of troops in Iraq to guard the U.N. mission. These are a specific request from the interim government of Iraq and the enlistment of troops from at least two other Islamic countries. Analysts believe that it would not be difficult to meet the conditions given the high stakes for the Bush administration in Iraq.

America has been pressing Pakistan for some time now to consider contributing troops in Iraq. A few weeks ago, before the transfer of power to the interim Iraqi government, the U.S. made an unusual request to Islamabad to send troops to Iraq to guard the U.N. mission as and when it is established.

Red faces

Now that Mr. Qazi would be presiding over the U.N. operations in Iraq, Pakistan would have to give its nod to the U.S. request to provide protection to the U.N. mission and personnel.

There were no explanations either from Washington or Islamabad on why the U.N. and the U.S. made a request to Pakistan for the dispatch of troops. There were several red faces in the Pakistan Foreign Office when journalists wanted to know why the U.S. is making a request on behalf of the U.N. and that too when there was no U.N. mission in the country. "Please ask the Americans," was the refrain of the Foreign Office spokesman.

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