U.S., Pakistan in 'complete unanimity' to fight terrorism, Pakistanis say

Firefighters hose down a smoldering fire at the site of the World Trade Center attacks,  Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2001 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, Pool)

Firefighters hose down a smoldering fire at the site of the World Trade Center attacks, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2001 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, Pool)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- U.S. and Pakistani officials ended two days of talks Wednesday in "complete unanimity" on ways to combat terrorism and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network in Afghanistan, a Pakistani general said.

No details of the agreement were announced, but Gen. Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf, said there was "no difference of opinion between Pakistan and America on the issue of combating terrorism."

Despite the agreement, Pakistan's government opposes efforts to bolster the northern alliance of opposition Afghan groups, which has been fighting the ruling Taliban since the hard-line Islamic movement seized power in 1996.

The Pakistani officials were careful to differentiate between fighting terrorism and battling Afghans.

"There is complete unanimity between both sides to fight against terrorism," Qureshi said. He said Pakistan was not involved "in any action plan against Afghanistan" but "our efforts are to crush terrorism wherever it is."

Pakistan has maintained close ties with the Taliban, who have sheltered bin Laden since 1996. It has been wary of U.S. pledges to punish those who harbor terrorists.

"Pakistan cannot and can never join in any hostile action against Afghanistan or the Afghan people," Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan said Wednesday. "We are deeply conscious that the destinies of the two people are intertwined."

In Washington, two U.S. government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Pakistan's report of a broad accord with the U.S. military was essentially correct. They would not elaborate.

The U.S. delegation was led by Air Force Brig. Gen. Kevin Chilton, director of strategic planning for the Near East and South Asia.

Pakistani officials said Musharraf began meetings with senior military commanders late Wednesday to brief them on the talks.

Pakistani officials said earlier Wednesday that both sides had agreed to minimize the use of ground forces in any strike in Afghanistan. That suggests that the United States was primarily interested in gaining permission to use Pakistani airspace for possible attacks against bin Laden's training camps, and perhaps access to Pakistani military airfields.

The United States was also keen to receive Pakistani intelligence information on possible bin Laden hide-outs.

Pakistan's cooperation is key to the U.S. strategy of apprehending bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon that killed more than 6,000 people.

Pakistan shares a long border with Afghanistan and is home to thousands of Afghan refugees, some of whom have been here since the 1979-1989 war against Soviet occupiers. Pakistan is the only country that recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Russia has already announced it will provide weapons and ammunition to the northern alliance fighting the Taliban, and Pakistan is concerned about foreign involvement in an unstable country on its borders. Pakistan is also uncomfortable with the possible emergence of a government in Kabul containing groups hostile to Islamabad.

"No government can be foisted upon Afghanistan from the outside," Khan said. "All Afghanistan, all neighbors of Afghanistan, emphasize that the territorial integrity of Afghanistan must be preserved."

Pakistan, a mostly Muslim country of 140 million people, also faces a considerable threat from Islamic hard-liners who sympathize with bin Laden. Pakistani authorities had been reluctant to crack down on Pakistan-based militant groups and wanted the United Nations to approve any operation against Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, however, banking sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the State Bank of Pakistan ordered Pakistani banks to freeze assets of 27 groups suspected of terrorist links. They include two Pakistan-based groups Ñ the Al-Rashid Trust and the Harkat ul-Mujahideen, a militant group fighting Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region.


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