Rumsfeld, Pakistan Differ Over Ramadan Bombing

By Akhtar Jamal | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Karachi, Pakistan ( - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made it clear to Pakistani leaders that the United States will continue air strikes in Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins mid-November.

Meeting with military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf and other government officials in Islamabad, Rumsfeld said the offensive must continue because of the continued terrorist threat.

There remained the risk of additional terrorist attacks and fears that thousands more people may be killed, he said.

But Musharraf suggested that the continuation of air strikes through Ramadan might have "negative fallout" in the Islamic world. Similar fears have been raised in recent weeks by the leaders of other Muslim nations.

Militant Islamists themselves, however, have not called for a halt to the campaign against the U.S.-led coalition during Ramadan.

On the contrary, a commander of the extremist group Hizballah urged the Taliban and terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden to continue their war during the month of fasting.

In an interview with a Karachi-based Awaam (People) publication, a man identified as Commander Jamal said, "Muslims have always achieved more success during Ramadan," and asked, "Why should we beg for a halt by the US forces?"

The Lebanon-based Hizballah, a Shi'ite group long engaged in a terrorist campaign against Israel, is now said to have become active in Afghanistan, according to Awaam.

Despite the obvious disagreement over the Ramadan issue during Rumsfeld's visit, the U.S. and Pakistani officials also discussed the future of Afghanistan following the expected collapse of the fundamentalist Taliban regime.

The sides agreed that it was desirable to create a multi-ethnic government through an internally-driven process, Rumsfeld and Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar told a joint press conference.

"It is imperative to put in place such a government in Afghanistan which can implement United Nations resolutions," reporters were told.

Rumsfeld vowed that his government was determined to "aggressively root out terrorism."

Nothing was said about a possible shopping list of weapons Islamabad is interested in buying from Washington.

Rumsfeld is the second senior US administration official to visit the Pakistan capital in recent weeks, following Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip last month. Rumsfeld later headed to India from Islamabad.

He arrived in Islamabad on Sunday after meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as with the leaders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. All three countries are supported the war against terrorism, launched after the September 11 attacks in the U.S.

While in Tashkent, Rumsfeld said the U.S. campaign was showing "measurable progress."

Thousands of Pakistanis join Taliban ranks

Meanwhile, another 1,200 pro-Taliban Pakistan tribesmen crossed the border into Afghanistan Sunday, bringing the total number of volunteers joining its "jihad" over the past four days to 4,400.

Mohammad Ishmael, a local head of the Movement for the Establishment of Islam party in Pakistan, said the latest group was taken to the frontier in North West Frontier Province. The men were armed with automatic rifles and other weapons, he said.

Washington reportedly has expressed its concern about Pakistanis crossing into Afghanistan to join Taliban forces. Pakistan has officially ban such moves, but radical tribesmen and religious groups have vowed to disobey the orders.

The two countries share a long border, and many locals from both sides move without restrictions or documentation. Pashtuns live on either side of the border, speaking the same language, and they cross at will.

The Movement for the Establishment of Islam has warned the Musharraf government to change its pro-U.S. policy by November 7 and withdraw logistic support or face a series of protests throughout the country and a civil disobedient movement.

Armed members of the movement earlier shut down the Silk Road several days ago and have threatened to blockade all traffic on the important trade thoroughfare again if their demands are not met within days.