- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Pro-Taliban Islamic groups in Pakistan called yesterday for mass demonstrations and strikes to protest the pledge by their president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to help the United States arrest Osama bin Laden.
Illustrating the political risks for Gen. Musharraf in cooperating with Washington, the demonstrators burned U.S. flags, shouted their support for bin Laden and warned the government they would take up arms for the Taliban.
Pakistan's major political parties, gathered under the umbrella of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, endorsed the government's decision to grant "full cooperation" with the U.S. anti-terrorist campaign and plan to capture bin Laden.
But the major Islamic political party, Jamaat-i-Islami, and other Islamic groups rejected such cooperation amid reports that dozens of American agents had arrived in Pakistan.
"The American attacks are a conspiracy, and we should not fall into this trap," Qazi Hussain Ahmed, leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, told a gathering of the heads of all key pro-Taliban groups.
Western and Pakistani sources told Agence France-Presse yesterday that the United States had deployed up to 50 agents, including some from the Special Forces, in Pakistan.
The Americans are involved in advance liaison work and the selection of Pakistani officers who will work with them in any military operations in or against Afghanistan, AFP reported.
The Islamic leaders rejected a request by Gen. Musharraf on Sunday to support his policy of opposing terrorism and joining U.S. efforts to break up the al Qaeda terrorist network headed by bin Laden, who is in Afghanistan under the protection of its Taliban rulers.
Gen. Hamid Gul, former head of the army's intelligence unit, which is held largely responsible for the rise of the Taliban, predicted "Pakistan would be completely destabilized" after any U.S. attack on Afghanistan.
"The Pakistani people would never accept an American presence on their soil. They would revolt," he told the French newspaper Figaro. "The government would have to rely on the army to control the insurrection."
Fazlur Rehman, chief of Jamaat-i-ulema-i-Islam, told Gen. Musharraf at a Sunday meeting, "We will fight against the USA," an aide told United Press International. "The army will be against you. We shall go to the mountains and come back at night to launch hit-and-run attacks."
The split between the military government and the Islamist supporters of the Taliban threatens to tear apart Pakistan, a nation of 140 million people that in 1998 conducted its first nuclear weapons tests.
Pakistan also is developing medium-range missiles to deliver nuclear weapons. The United States has imposed sanctions on Pakistan as well as Chinese firms accused of supplying missile parts and technology.
Pakistan was the first of three countries to recognize the Taliban when it crushed rival warlord militias in 1996 and took power.
The Taliban's radical form of Islam was spawned in Pakistani religious schools and proved popular among many Pakistanis.
Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar said in an interview last week that Pakistan has been trying to confront its own Islamic extremists who have increasingly intimidated journalists, politicians and even the military.
"Our founding father dreamed of founding Pakistan as a modern moderate Islamic country based on democracy," he said.
There is widespread support in Pakistan for a guerrilla war to drive India out of Kashmir, and many of the Islamist groups fighting there are trained in Afghanistan some by bin Laden's followers.
About 12 percent of Pakistan's 140 million people speak Pashtu, the same language as the Taliban and its followers. They are clustered along the border with Pakistan, where they share cultural and kinship ties with the Afghan Pashtus.
Many of the Pashtus in Pakistan have fallen under the spell of Islamic militants since U.S. and Saudi-armed Afghan guerrillas drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan in 1990.
Even the military government of Gen. Musharraf has been afraid to confront the radical Islamic forces that have spread from the northeast throughout the country in recent years.
About 1 million Pakistani children are attending Islamic schools called madrassas, where they often are taught to hate the West and to prepare to fight a holy war, or jihad, in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya or elsewhere.
The leaders of the Taliban have been educated mainly in the Pakistani madrassas, and their influence over the mostly illiterate and impoverished Pakistanis continues to grow.
When Gen. Musharraf tried to water down a blasphemy law to require more proof of a crime before prosecution, he was forced to back off by widespread Islamic opposition.
In parts of the mainly Pashtu northwest, local officials have been forced, sometimes by mobs, to close video shops and to impose Islamic dress codes.
Newspaper offices also have been attacked. Pakistani politician and former cricket star Imram Khan has said that fear is spreading throughout the country.
Some 100,000 militants of Islamic parties and groups opposing Indian troops in Kashmir have been trained in Afghanistan and armed, said Mr. Khan and others.
Pakistan has a powerful and well-trained army that is expected to be capable of controlling any unrest, said analyst Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution.
But it too has been influenced by Islamist teachings in recent years. The influence spreads even into its officer corps, which once was mainly British- and U.S.-trained.

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