Online Extra: Which Side Will Pakistan Back?

This Security Council member's U.N. ambassador says an Iraq war can still be averted, but Islamabad won't take a stand til the final vote

It's a dilemma facing every member of the U.N. Security Council: How to vote on a new resolution introduced by the U.S. and Britain that would essentially authorize an attack on Iraq? That decision will have to be made by the Council's 15 members shortly after U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix makes his next report to the Security Council on or about Mar. 7.

The Council is deeply divided. The U.S., Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria support the British and American resolution, which would declare that Saddam Hussein has failed to cooperate with the U.N. and disarm his country of weapons of mass destruction. France, Germany, Russia, China, and Syria have said they are against the resolution -- although U.S. diplomats hope that some of them may yet switch sides. In the middle -- and the object of intense lobbying from both proponents and opponents of the resolution -- are Guinea, Mexico, Angola, Cameroon, Chile, and Pakistan.

Munir Akram, Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.N., recently spoke with BusinessWeek Senior Writer Rose Brady about his government's deliberations over Iraq. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation:

Q: This must be an interesting time to be a U.N. ambassador.

A:

Certainly, it's a time of very intense diplomacy over an issue that is of major significance for world peace. It has kept the U.N. more or less in the eye of the storm. That could be good for the U.N. It can contribute to peace and security and to Iraqi disarmamanet. But of course, the Security Council has to keep its eye on the ball and remain united and effective.

Q: How will you vote on the U.S.-Britain resolution?

A:

The resolution is not being put to a vote yet. There's still time. Our desire is to establish the credibility of the inspections process. Of course, we hope we could do so by Iraqi cooperation and by reports from inspectors that things are working. And if and when we can establish that credibility, we hope the inspections process can go forward and peacefully achieve the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Q: Does that mean you will vote against the resolution?

A:

We will have to determine a position at the time it is put to a vote. Circumstances may be different at that time. We should not bother ourselves at the moment with that. If we want a peaceful settlement, [we need] to establish the credibility of the inspections process. Given the fact that there is a real urgency, we hope the Iraqis will offer full cooperation, and we hope that the council will be able to reach the conclusion that inspections can work.

Q: Is the U.S. lobbying your government hard -- for example by offering additional aid or other incentives to Pakistan?

A:

If you're [asking] whether any offers have been made to us, no we have not received [any]. This is not a matter of trading votes. It's a much more serious issue of international peace and security. Pakistan's stakes are very high because it is a country from the region. It's an Islamic country. There will be implications [in] a conflict for us. This is a matter of much greater importance than just a question of incentives of that nature.

Q: Are you satisfied with the level of aid Pakistan receives from the U.S.? It was increased in the wake of September 11, 2001.

A:

I don't think we are satisfied. We would always express the hope that the U.S. can be more generous, not only because we think Pakistan deserves it but because we think it's in the interest of the U.S. We are fighting a battle for the promotion of modernization and democracy in one of the largest Islamic countries. We hope the U.S. will not only continue but will enlarge its support politically and economically.

Q: How so?

A:

Trade access is one area. Economic assistance. Debt writedowns. Political support. Provision of certain military parts that we need.... We are hoping for a much more broad-based intensified relationship with the U.S.

Q: Do you think Pakistan's relations with the U.S. will be damaged if you don't vote for the U.S.-British resolution?

A:

We hope not. The U.S. President has said [the U.S.] doesn't need a Security Council resolution. Even if things don't work out in the Council, we certainly hope that there will be no impact on our relations. Each country acts according to its own perception [of the situation].

Q: Are you concerned that a war in Iraq could divert attention from troubles in your own region -- in Afghanistan, for example?

A:

Yes, certainly. That's a major concern for us. And we have been reassured that American attention will not drift away. But it is a preoccupation not only for Pakistan but for the Afghan government as well. Indian forces remain on our borders. We have a problem over Kashmir, and India refuses to talk to us [about that]. It is a troubling situation.

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