Pakistani Leader: U.S. Does Not Target Islam

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said U.S. plans against suspected terrorist Usama bin Laden were not yet finalized but reassured his nation Wednesday there was no intention to target Islam or the people of Afghanistan.

Dressed in his military uniform, Musharraf spoke in the Urdu language in a nationally televised speech and warned that Pakistan was facing a serious crisis and must use "our wisdom and our intelligence."

"Pakistan is passing through a very delicate phase," he said. "If we make a mistake now, it will affect our future."

Musharraf said the United States is seeking Pakistan's help on intelligence gathering and logistics, as well as permission to use its airspace.

But he said the U.S. operation plan has not been prepared fully yet and few details of the support being sought from Pakistan were known.

"Nowhere have the words Islam or the Afghan nation been mentioned," in discussions between Pakistan and the United States about cooperating in efforts to battle terrorism, he said.

Musharraf's address was intended to explain his decision to help U.S. forces capture or kill Usama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That decision has spraked anger and fear among many in Pakistan, where some groups strongly back bin Laden and the Taliban.

Musharraf warned that the terrorist attacks against the United States and Pakistan's decision to help find and prosecute the perpetrators has put the country in its worst crisis since its last war, with neighboring India, in 1971.

To cooperate with the United States and stand together with the international community will ensure the country emerges as a "responsible and dignified Pakistan.

Part of the speech dealt with India, which remains a bitter rival. Musharraf accused New Delhi of trying to profit from the tensions by suggesting that Pakistan is not cooperating with the international movement against terrorism.

"They want Pakistan to be declared a terrorist state and thus damage our Kashmir cause," Musharraf said of the Indians. "I want to tell them in English, 'Lay off'."

"The Pakistani army and every person is prepared to fight to save its strategic bases. At this moment, our air force is on high alert and is prepared for a do-or-die mission," Musharraf said.

In a sign of the virulent opposition among some Pakistanis, a powerful alliance of Islamic groups warned Wednesday that cooperating against bin Laden would throw Pakistan into civil war.

There were violent protests for a second day in Karachi, in southern Pakistan, where hundreds of demonstrators burned effigies of Musharraf and President Bush. Protesters also burned American flags in Peshawar, a northern hotbed of support for bin Laden.

The decision by Musharraf — who seized power in a 1999 bloodless coup — to provide U.S. forces with access to its country's air space and land has thrust his Muslim nation of 140 million people to the front of Washington's war on terrorism.

Pakistan is one of only three countries — along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that officially recognize the Taliban government.

A delegation of Pakistan officials met with Taliban leaders in Kandahar, Afghanistan, this week to urge them to extradite bin Laden to the United States or face attacks by a U.S.-led international force.

The officials returned to Islamabad on Tuesday with no agreement, but said the Taliban were considering several conditions to turn bin Laden over to a third country.