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Islamic Parties Want U.S. to Leave

Hard-line alliance that made gains in Pakistani election criticizes presence of troops.

October 15, 2002|From Reuters

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Hard-line Islamic parties, which have emerged as potential coalition partners after a general election in Pakistan, said Monday that they would seek to impose Islamic law in the country and ask U.S. troops to leave.

Talks over who would form a coalition in parliament proceeded, with the focus of the outside world on whether the Islamic front, which recorded sizable gains in Thursday's election, would be part of the government or in opposition.

The election, designed to return Pakistan to civilian rule after a coup in 1999, has been strongly criticized by European Union observers who said the military tipped the voting in its favor to allow President Pervez Musharraf to hold on to power.

"We assure the international community that we are not terrorists," said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, leader of Pakistan's largest religious-based political party, Jamaat-i-Islami, which is part of the United Council of Action, a coalition of six Islamic parties. He added: "But we do not approve of foreign interference. For this we do not need any help from the American forces nor their bases in the country. There should also be no such bases here which could be used for interference in the affairs of neighboring states."

He was referring to the small U.S. military presence in Pakistan concentrated at the Jacobabad air base, from which search-and-rescue operations in Afghanistan are launched. Other party leaders called for imposing Islamic law.

Musharraf, a key ally of Washington in its campaign against Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban movement and Al Qaeda, said the rise of the religious parties would not derail his policies.

"As far as national policies are concerned ... the national strategy does not change with a change of government, it continues," he told reporters after a summit in Istanbul, Turkey.

The allied Islamic parties won 50 seats. That makes them the third-largest bloc behind the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, with 77 seats, and the Pakistan People's Party, which won 62.

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