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Pakistan pledges to fight militants
Question of the Day
BASTI ABDULLAH, Pakistan — President Pervez Musharraf yesterday vowed to crush Islamist extremists across the country and move strongly against religious schools after a bloody standoff at a mosque in the capital left scores dead.
Hours earlier, a radical cleric who had been caught fleeing the Red Mosque in a woman’s burqa, gave a fiery funeral oration for his slain brother, predicting the siege will bring “Islamic revolution” to Pakistan.
In a national television address, Gen. Musharraf also said security forces along the border with Afghanistan will get tanks and other modern weapons soon to bolster the campaign against militants. The frontier region is a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban, and the United States has been pushing Pakistan to root them out.
“Terrorism and extremism has not ended in Pakistan,” Gen. Musharraf said. “But it is our resolve that we will eliminate extremism and terrorism wherever it exists. Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country.”
In an apparent backlash to the eight-day army siege at the Red Mosque that left 108 persons dead, a suicide bomber attacked the office of a top government official near the Afghan border yesterday. Thousands of angry tribesmen mourned three of the militants killed at the mosque.
The army’s assault on the Red Mosque militants has given hard-liners a new rallying cry and sparked calls from al Qaeda and Taliban leaders for revenge attacks. But the crackdown also has raised Gen. Musharraf’s standing among moderate Pakistanis worried about extremism in their nation.
Outside Pakistan, there was mixed reaction to the attack.
An Afghan warlord fighting U.S. and NATO forces yesterday condemned the Pakistani army raid and called on Muslims there to revolt against the U.S.-backed government, a spokesman said.
Veteran Islamic fighter Gulbuddin Hekmatyar charged that Gen. Musharraf “attacked the mosque to please [President] Bush,” according to Mr. Hekmatyar’s spokesman Haroon Zarghon. “Musharraf martyred the students to please Bush.” he said.
However, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph published today in London, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto backed the decision to storm the radical mosque.
Mrs. Bhutto, who was twice Pakistan’s leader in the 1990s, said the operation had “drawn a line in the sand” and said that while it “was an unfortunate incident. … I am grateful there was no policy of appeasement.”
Gen. Musharraf urged those in charge of madrassas, or Islamic religious schools, o eradicate hatred and violence from the minds of their students.
Army commandos captured the Red Mosque in a 35-hour battle that ended Wednesday. Among the 85 persons killed during the final assault was cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who led the mosque’s increasingly violent vigilante anti-vice campaign in the capital.
Mr. Ghazi’s brother, chief cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, was arrested last week while trying to slip out of the mosque disguised as a woman. He was allowed to attend Mr. Ghazi’s burial at his ancestral village in Punjab province yesterday, a traditional practice for Pakistani prisoners.
“Whatever happened in the past days is not hidden from anyone. God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit,” Mr. Aziz said before leading prayers attended by about 3,000 people.
“We can let our necks be severed, but we cannot bow down before oppressive rulers. Our struggle will continue. There are many Ghazis living to be martyred,” said Mr. Aziz, who was escorted by two dozen police commandos while 700 other officers watched over the gathering.
Mr. Ghazi’s wooden coffin was surrounded by hundreds of mourners, many with tears in their eyes, as it was carried to a madrassa for burial. One man broke a small glass window on the coffin’s cover through which a deceased person’s face can be viewed.
In Islamabad, crews put the remains of dozens of militants killed at the mosque into temporary graves.
According to official reports, 108 persons died in eight days of fighting around the mosque compound. The government hasn’t given precise figures but says most of the dead were armed extremists.
Some opposition figures said the death toll was higher. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, president of the six-party opposition United Action Forum, said that between 400 and 1,000 people were killed.
Gen. Musharraf said the militants at the Red Mosque had links with extremists in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, a region where many people are sympathetic to the hard-line brand of Islam espoused by the Taliban.
By Steve King
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