Pakistan's military president said Tuesday his government has turned over newly captured al Qaeda suspects to the United States, so there's no need for American forays across the border from Afghanistan.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on his first visit to Afghanistan, noted that 40 or 50 people were detained in the roundups last week in two Pakistani cities, Lahore and Faisalabad, both in Punjab province. He said the anti-terrorist sweep showed his forces can handle such operations on their own.
As he spoke, police in the Pakistani city of Lahore announced the arrests of another 16 people late Monday in a raid on a suspected al Qaeda hide-out. All came to Pakistan from Afghanistan illegally in recent months, said the police chief, Javed Noor.
Pakistan was one of the few nations to support Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, but withdrew its backing after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, when the Taliban were blamed for sheltering chief suspect Osama bin Laden.
Musharraf and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai Tuesday described themselves as brothers, burying any lingering differences between them over Islamabad's past support for the ousted Taliban.
Musharraf pledged full support for Karzai and said Pakistan's sole aim now was to assist Afghanistan and join with it in stamping out terrorism.
"I have made it absolutely clear to my brother here that Pakistan has only one aim — to assist Afghanistan and to assist my brother sitting here and his government in doing whatever he wants to do in Afghanistan," Musharraf said.
"Our plan is his plan. We will assist him all the way on whatever he wants to do here."
Both Musharraf and Karzai said they did not know the whereabouts of bin Laden and could only guess if he was alive or dead. "He may be dead or alive, I don't know," Musharraf said, "But if you ask my view, maybe he's dead."
"I don't really know where bin Laden is," Karzai said.
American officials in Washington have said those arrested in Pakistan last week include Abu Zubaydah, identified as a top lieutenant in the terror group, although Musharraf said he couldn't confirm that with "100 percent surety."
Experts say the capture of Abu Zubaydah, al Qaeda's top surviving operational commander, is one of the most significant accomplishments in the U.S. war on terrorism. Pakistani authorities captured Zubaydah last Thursday. He was shot three times trying to escape but is expected to survive.
With the help of U.S. intelligence information, "it was Pakistani law enforcement agencies and Pakistani intelligence organizations that moved against them very successfully," Musharraf said at a joint news conference with Karzai.
Of suggestions that U.S. forces in the anti-terror coalition in Afghanistan join in such operations across the border in Pakistan, the general said, "I think doing that is not in the coalition's interest and not in Pakistan's interest."
Pakistan's hard-line Islamic groups rejected Tuesday Musharraf's plans to call a referendum to legitimize his military rule for five more years.
Leaders of six Islamic parties, also opposed to Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war on terror and his crackdown on Islamic militants, vowed to mobilize public support against the planned referendum.
"We unanimously reject the presidential referendum as unconstitutional and we have decided to go to people to ask them to boycott it," Shah Ahmed Noorani, head of the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Committee (UAC), multi-party grouping, told a news conference.
Musharraf, who took power in a coup in October 1999, left the country's journalists in no doubt on Saturday he would hold a referendum, probably in early May.
Musharraf said he needed more time to push through the economic and political reforms to bring stability in the country.
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