US talks with Pakistan on cooperation for a possible attack on Afghanistan are still at a preliminary stage, a government spokesman said Tuesday.
In Islamabad's first official comment on the status of a team of US defense officials who arrived unannounced here at the weekend, the spokesman said their discussions were only of an "exploratory" nature and designed to prepare the ground for a second US delegation which would arrive at a later date.
"This is not the main delegation," the spokesman told AFP. "They are just holding a preparatory meeting with their counterparts of an exploratory nature.
"They will discuss the situation on the ground and exchange information. The main delegation is expected later, but we do not have any dates."
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has promised "unstinted cooperation" with US efforts to hit back at Osama bin Laden, the Afghan-based militant whom the United States suspects of orchestrating the devastating September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
But how far Islamabad goes in facilitating a US operation against bin Laden's bases or Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia is a highly sensitive issue.
Pakistan has signaled that it is willing to allow the US to use its airspace and provide logistical support for any military action.
It has also pledged to share its intelligence on bin Laden and the Taliban with the United States but insists the US has not asked to use Pakistani territory as a launch pad for a ground operation in Afghanistan.
Radical Islamic groups have vowed to mount a violent campaign against any US military presence in Pakistan. A Qatari television station on Monday broadcast what it said was an appeal from bin Laden for Pakistanis to rise up and "repel the US crusader forces."
Four people, described as martyrs by bin Laden, died in violence linked to protests in Karachi on Friday but otherwise there has been little sign of mass unrest on the streets.
Opinion polls and the reaction of the mainstream political parties suggest most Pakistanis support General Musharraf's decision to back the United States in the crisis.
Washington has already rewarded Pakistan for its stance by lifting sanctions imposed over its nuclear program and rescheduling $375 million of the country's huge foreign debt -- ISLAMABAD (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )