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Pakistan Pledges to Curb Militants

South Asia: In address to nation, Musharraf bans five groups but says he will continue to support Kashmiris in dispute with India.

January 13, 2002|DAVID LAMB and PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Pervez Musharraf vowed Saturday that Pakistan will dismantle the structure of extremism in mosques and religious schools that he said has bred violence and perverted Islam in this country. He also banned five militant organizations, saying Pakistanis are tired of a "Kalashnikov culture."

In a 70-minute address to the nation, the four-star general did not make any major concessions on the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, where India and Pakistan are facing each other in a tense standoff, but he said the threat of war could be ended by dialogue. He pledged that he will not allow Pakistani soil to be used for terrorism aimed at India or anywhere else.

Then, switching from Urdu, the national language, to English, Musharraf said: "To the United States I say, as I have said before, Pakistan rejects terrorism in all its forms. You must play an active role" in bringing New Delhi and Islamabad to the negotiating table.

The two countries have already fought two wars over Kashmir, and the military buildup underway there is the biggest in 15 years.

In a statement released in Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell praised Musharraf's "bold and principled stand" and particularly "his pledge that Pakistan will not tolerate terrorism under any pretext, including Kashmir."

Powell, who is scheduled to visit India and Pakistan this week, called Musharraf's assertion that the two countries could still resolve their differences through dialogue "encouraging" and added: "This speech reconfirms Pakistan's role as a front-line state in the war against global terrorism."

Not every listener was so impressed, however.

"There was a lot of hype that this was to be a groundbreaking speech, especially with regard to India," said Iffat Malik, a political columnist with the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. "It wasn't. Most of what he said, he has said before. It was reiterating his existing policies."

India's government deferred its public response to a news conference scheduled for today.

Although the speech may have reiterated existing policy, few leaders in the Islamic world have been as publicly critical of religious extremists as Musharraf was Saturday. Extremists "have destroyed our international image," he said. "We are projected as an ignorant and backward nation. Our economy has been hurt. Export orders have been canceled. Factories have closed, and workers have lost their jobs."

All Islam has suffered because of extremism, he said, paraphrasing a speech he gave last June: "The ulema [religious scholars] say Islam is tolerant. And how does the world judge our claim? It looks on us as terrorist. We are killing each other, and we want to spread violence and terror abroad. Naturally, the world regards us as terrorist. Our claim of tolerance is phony."

'Kashmir Runs in Our Blood'

Musharraf again condemned attacks from Kashmir on India--calling those involved terrorists--but he said Pakistan will go to war if its sovereignty is violated.

"Kashmir runs in our blood," he said, promising to continue moral and political support for Kashmiris in the divided region.

The Indian buildup in Kashmir started after five gunmen, believed to be Pakistani-supported Kashmiris, attacked the Parliament in New Delhi on Dec. 13, killing nine people before being killed. Musharraf began a crackdown on militants in August, but India maintains that he has not gone far enough and that Pakistan continues to support terrorist training camps in Kashmir.

Musharraf, 58, a former commando who came to power in a bloodless 1999 coup, delivered the speech that the government said he wrote himself with a portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founding father, over his right shoulder. Jinnah was a secular Muslim who preached the tolerance and compassion of Islam, and Musharraf gave every indication of intending to return to that spirit by wresting power from religious zealots and silencing the inflammatory rhetoric that flows from many mosques.

The president said that mosques that have been used for nonreligious purposes will be closed and that no new mosque will be allowed to open without a government permit. The political messages that have blared forth on loudspeakers from many mosques will be banned.

Religious schools, he said, will be reformed and no longer permitted to teach only religion. Mathematics, science, history and English will be added to their curricula, he said.

Additionally, he banned five groups involved with sectarian violence, including two of the most notorious, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Tehrik-e-Jafria. More than 250 of their leaders and supporters were detained before his speech during raids on mosques and religious schools in the port city of Karachi and southern towns.

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