ISLAMABAD, July 8: Pakistan will not send troops to Iraq until the security environment there improves or the Iraqi people choose to welcome foreign troops, well-placed defence sources told Dawn on Tuesday.

Pakistan has been considering US and British requests for troops for peacekeeping operations in Iraq, but recent consultations at the highest level here have led to the conclusion that it is not a favourable time to do so, the sources claimed.

Key members of the establishment remain open to the possibility of Pakistan contributing to the stabilization force, but only when the Iraqi people wish for such a contribution.

“Given the uprising against the US-led coalition forces in Iraq and the internal anarchy there, sending our troops at this time would be like jumping into fire,” remarked an important official involved in the consultative process.

He disclosed that the government had been strongly advised against such a move and asked to take the cue and cover of the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“President Musharraf’s pronouncements during his recently concluded four-nation visit that Pakistan is prepared to send troops to Iraq were not his final word,” sources close to GHQ said.

Thus Pakistan’s position remains that while in principle it supports the idea of dispatching troops for peacekeeping in Iraq, it would prefer to do so under the cover of the UN, OIC or GCC.

Officials in Islamabad concede privately that there is little chance of securing any such cover. “The UN is almost out and there are clear divisions both within the OIC and GCC on this issue,” said one official.

The institutional view of the foreign office is also against sending Pakistani troops to Iraq unless it is under the auspices of the UN or the OIC.

However, there is a small section within the establishment that supports the move. It argues that India is seriously considering joining the international peacekeeping force in Iraq and Pakistan should move in fast to counter Indian influence there.

“Time is of the essence,” they insist, pointing to the economic opportunities and possible gains for Pakistan in the reconstruction of Iraq. However, opponents of the move assert that the risk factors far outweigh any financial considerations.

The volatile situation in Iraq, they believe, is not at all conducive to any reconstruction or stabilization activities. They are quick to point out that even the Indian government now seems confused over the issue, and it will be wrong to compare Pakistan with India, which is not a Muslim country and is seeking a strategic relationship with the US.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is making efforts to put together an Islamic force advancing the concept of Muslim brotherhood and solidarity with the Muslim nations, government sources said.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and some North African countries are said to be on board. The Turkish prime minister has already encouraged Pakistan to send its troops.

There is a belief that a broad-based Islamic force will not be perceived as hostile and will be more acceptable to the Iraqis who are currently resisting American forces.

The presence of an Islamic force will facilitate peacekeeping operations in Iraq, they contend.