ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan's support for the war on terrorism and possible operations against Afghanistan depend entirely on the U.S. forming its own plan of action, the foreign minister said Monday.
"Pakistan has pledged logistical support to the operation. What that logistical support could be … is up to the U.S.," Abdul Sattar said in an exclusive interview with Fox News.
Sattar said Pakistan had moved quickly in the days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, offering the United States complete use of Pakistani airspace, shared intelligence and information and an unspecified amount of logistical support.
Immediately, the question became just how much logistical support Pakistan would offer, and if it would specifically allow U.S. aircraft and some ground personnel to use its territory to launch raids and other actions across the border into Afghanistan.
U.S. officials had been worried Pakistan might go the way of Saudi Arabia, who on Sunday said it would not allow strikes against Afghanistan from its bases. Several other Muslim countries have privately or publicly said they would also not allow the U.S. unfettered use of territory.
Sattar's statements, however, suggested Pakistan would make a more substantive commitment to the U.S. effort. Western diplomatic officials here have said Pakistan has been very cooperative with U.S. defense officials, but that few specific requests had yet been made.
Sattar also said he had no idea when the expected U.S. military action would take place - another frequent question here in the Pakistani capital. But he indicated there was a closing "window of time" for a non-violent solution, and called on the international community to do what it could in the interim.
"When the U.S. will resort to force is known only to the U.S.," Sattar said. "It may be hours, it may be days."
He said the remaining time, however short, gave the Taliban a chance to comply with a U.N. anti-terrorism resolution calling on them to surrender suspected terrorist mastermind Usama bin Laden.
Sattar made clear his country firmly backed the overall U.S.-led effort as well as the U.N. resolution. He noted differences between Pakistan and the Taliban have created a "cleavage" between the two, and the once-close governments clearly stood on opposite sides of this issue.
"We envision Pakistan as a moderate and modern state," Sattar said, suggested the Taliban have gone in the opposite direction. "There is a very clear difference of judgment on this."
That does not mean Pakistan will cut off all contact with the Taliban. Sattar said that as the only country to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban, Pakistan was obliged to keep lines of communication open in the hope there will be some progress.
But as President Pervez Musharraf indicated during a television interview on Sunday night, chances of that happening appeared to be slim, Sattar conceded.
When asked if he understood the thinking of the Taliban in refusing all requests and demands to turn over bin Laden, Sattar said it was "very difficult to read the mind of another government." He declined to speculate if the Taliban was hiding bin Laden, detaining him or perhaps more actively protecting him from a possible U.S. attack.
Whatever the case, he said, the Taliban need to act quickly. "If a host asks a guest to leave and the guest refuses, then the host has another decision to make," he said.
He also urged the United States and the international community not to repeat the mistakes of the past by forcing a government on Afghanistan.
"It is our strong view and our advice to all our friends: Do not try to impose a government on the people of Afghanistan from the outside," he said. Calling the Afghans a "fiercely independent" people, he cited the disastrous failure of the Soviet Union to install its own puppet regime in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
During the interview Sattar repeatedly emphasized Pakistan's stake in the current crisis, and outlined his concerns about how it might be handled by the U.S.
"My fear is that if the action that is taken in Afghanistan is seen to be unjust, and results in massive hardships, there will be a reaction in our country … God forbid, if the action that is taken is disproportionate."