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Musharraf: Ramadan strikes risk Muslim backlash

Musharraf is scheduled to meet President Bush in New York
Musharraf is scheduled to meet President Bush in New York  

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Warning that support from Islamic states may wane if U.S. strikes against Afghanistan continue during Ramadan, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has restated his hope for a quick end to the military campaign.

Speaking in the Turkish city of Istanbul, en route to the United States, Musharraf told reporters that he objected to strikes during the Muslim holy month -- which begins mid-November -- and was keen to broach the subject when he meets U.S. President George W. Bush.

"The attacks should not go on during Ramadan because that would have very negative effects on the Muslim world," Musharraf said.

"That is one thing I would like to discuss with President Bush."

Musharraf pays surprise visit to Iran 

The Pakistani leader said there was a perception the conflict was a war against Afghan people, which he said was "not the case".

But that perception risked being "further enlarged in the Muslim world" if there is not a quick end to the campaign, Musharraf said.

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He added that he hoped "the military objectives [of the allied campaign] are achieved as quickly as possible so that peace may be brought to Afghanistan."

Before arriving in Turkey, Musharraf made a brief unpublicized stopover in Tehran, where he held talks Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref.

IRNA, the official Iranian news agency, said the two sides talks focused on several issues of concern but with the situation in Afghanistan thought to have dominated the agenda. Later this week Musharraf will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

The Pakistani leader will address the assembly and is scheduled to meet with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Musharraf is also expected to meet separately with French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The future of Afghanistan and any post Taliban government is expected to dominate the agenda.

Support defended

In other comments to reporters in Istanbul the Pakistani leader defended his support of the allied campaign, but stressed that any change in Afghanistan's government must be "home-grown [and] friendly to all its neighbors."

"We have to ensure the unity and stability of Afghanistan," he said. "There ought to be a broad-based government based on multi-ethnic lines taking into consideration the demographic distribution of Afghanistan."

Most importantly, he said, the Afghans themselves should be the ones to decide what form that government takes.

Musharraf said he "would oppose any plans to divide Afghanistan" as "most unnatural and most impractical."

Minority backlash

Opposition in Pakistan to the U.S. strikes is limited to a
Opposition in Pakistan to the U.S. strikes is limited to a "small minority" Musharraf says  

The U.S. has lifted a number of sanctions it had imposed on Pakistan over its tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests with India.

The lifting of sanctions is seen as a reward for Pakistan's cooperation with the U.S. concerning the campaign in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has allowed the U.S. to use its airspace and also several bases for logistical and search and rescue reasons.

Islamabad's alignment with the U.S. has caused some protests in Pakistan , but Musharraf has insisted that any anti-U.S. and anti-government sentiment has been limited to only a "small minority" in the predominantly Muslim nation.

He said there was no risk to his leadership, otherwise he would not be leaving Pakistan.

As allied attacks on Taliban and suspected terrorist strongholds in Afghanistan continued, Musharraf also added that Afghanistan's fundamentalist rulers were "not becoming a threat" to Pakistan. "They have their own view," the president said. "As long as they keep their own views to themselves in Afghanistan, they are not a threat to Pakistan."


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