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Islamic Hard-Liner Takes Office

November 30, 2002|From Associated Press

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — An Islamic hard-liner was sworn in Friday to lead a Pakistani province considered vital in the hunt for Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives. He vowed to impose strict religious rule in the area.

"Implementation of Islamic laws will be our first priority," said Akram Durrani, the new chief minister of the North West Frontier Province.

Durrani rode to power in nationwide elections last month on support for a radical religious alliance. The result has triggered concern in Washington about a backlash against President Pervez Musharraf's support for the fight against terrorism.

The alliance, the United Action Forum, had its best showing in two of Pakistan's four provinces that border Afghanistan. In these deeply conservative regions, clan ties often outweigh regional or national interests.

The victory marks the first time a hard-line religious group has won control of a Pakistani province and came after leaders criticized the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. The groups supported Afghanistan's former Taliban regime.

The alliance also polled well in Baluchistan province, also on the Afghan border, where it still has a chance of forming a coalition government. The hard-liners also won enough support to be a powerful opposition voice in the national legislature, which last week elected moderate, pro-U.S. Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali as prime minister.

Pakistani security forces, with help from U.S. agencies, are searching for Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in the border regions.

Jamali has said the government will continue Musharraf's policies of working with the United States in the fight against terrorism.

Earlier this week, however, Durrani said he would not let U.S. troops operate in his territory if he were elected chief minister.

In his speech to the provincial assembly, Durrani said he would crack down on alcohol consumption and gambling -- which are already illegal under Pakistani law, although violations frequently occur in private.

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