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Pakistan president: Aiding U.S. was 'right decision'

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said his decision to lend support to the U.S-led campaign against terrorism was "difficult," but his country is committed to staying the course.

"We have joined the coalition as a matter of principle, and we'll stick to our decisions," Musharraf said in an interview to be broadcast on CNN's "Larry King Live" Monday night. "I know that a vast majority of the country is supporting whatever decision I took. Therefore, although it was a difficult decision ... we took the right decision."

The Pakistani leader also reiterated his hope that U.S. military action in Afghanistan will be brought to a quick conclusion.

"Any military operation has to identify clearly what the military objectives are, and one has to achieve those objectives before bringing the operation to an end," he said. "But one really does wish and hope that the objectives are achieved and the military operation is short."

He also said that if the U.S.-led strikes in Afghanistan continue into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins November 17, "it will certainly have some negatives." He has not received any assurances that there will not be military action during Ramadan, Musharraf said.

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"It should not have any effect on the campaign as such, but it may have some effects in the Muslim world," he said. "One would hope for restraint during the month of Ramadan because this would certainly have some negative effects in the Muslim world."

Too many refugees

Musharraf also said the number of refugees trying to cross the border from Afghanistan is of "great concern." His country, which is already assisting 2.5 million Afghan refugees, cannot absorb any more, Musharraf said. He wants relief groups to establish refugee camps on the Afghan side of the border.

"Pakistan is prepared to accept people who are old, injured, children, some women," he said. "But we cannot open the flood gates for all refugees flowing into Pakistan."

Westerners worried about Pakistan's nuclear weaponry falling into the wrong hands "don't understand the reality of Pakistan."

"All our nuclear assets, all our strategic assets, are in very, very safe hands," he said. "...Pakistan is a moderate Islamic country, and there is no question of any fundamentalist getting hold of our strategic assets."

Fears of abandonment

Some Pakistanis fear the United States will forget its coalition when the attacks in Afghanistan are done, said Musharraf. He recalled the U.S.-Pakistan effort to roll back the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. After the Soviets left, "we were left in the lurch," he said.

"Indeed, that is one of the prime topics discussed all around in Pakistan -- that we are going to be abandoned again after our support for the U.S. coalition," he said.

As for any post-Taliban government in Afghanistan, Musharraf said it must represent all of the ethnic groups in the country. Any political structure must come from Afghans themselves, rather than having one imposed upon them, he said.

He also said Pakistan would accept a post-Taliban government that included the opposition Northern Alliance, a group with which Pakistan has been at odds in the past.

Pakistan, he added, would "certainly like to have a friendly Afghanistan on our western border."


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