- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf has begun a guarded campaign against the country's armed militant groups in an effort to win support for his debt-ridden regime from Western donors.
Two small but hard-line groups, responsible for dozens of sectarian murders in Pakistan, have been banned, and police have arrested militants found raising money for the guerrilla war in Kashmir.
The new, widely publicized policy comes alongside a promise to hold parliamentary elections next year, and just weeks before Islamabad hopes to negotiate a major new loan from the International Monetary Fund. But already Pakistani government officials appear confused about whether to implement the new laws, and Gen. Musharraf is facing vocal opposition from powerful religious conservatives.
Gen. Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in October 1999 and made himself president in June this year, has banned two Islamic groups, the Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Shi'ite Sipah-e-Mohammed, both responsible for brutal killings. Their bank accounts have been frozen.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the murder earlier this month of a Shi'ite Muslim Defense Ministry official in Karachi. Two larger groups, the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba and the Shi'ite Tehreek-i-Jafria, are under surveillance.
Shi'ites, who are in the minority in Pakistan, have been targeted particularly in Karachi in recent months in a campaign of intimidation and murder.
"Our economic malaise coupled with an intolerant extremist attitude in certain quarters are the termites eating us from within," the general said in a speech marking Pakistan's Independence Day. "We shall not allow any organization to speak the language of violence and intolerance."
His regime has also stepped up enforcement of a ban on fund raising for the war in Kashmir. Many market stalls in cities across the country carry collection boxes from the most hard-line militant groups that are fighting the Indian army in Kashmir.
Police officers in Karachi, where many of the militants are based, arrested 250 activists from groups as they raised funds last week, but released them within hours. Militant leaders, angered by the arrests, demanded the resignation of the reformist interior minister, Moinuddin Haider, a retired general.
"All jihadi [holy warrior] groups have welcomed Pervez Musharraf's bold stance on Kashmir, but it appears certain forces have forced him to take a policy U-turn against us," said Abdullah Muntazir, the spokesman for Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the most powerful militant groups.
It quickly became clear there was considerable opposition within the regime to the campaign against armed fighters.
Many of the militant groups are given support by the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate for their war in Kashmir, although Islamabad insists it gives only moral, diplomatic and political support to the groups.
Yet others in the government, particularly in Pakistan's Finance Ministry, led by Shaukat Aziz, a former Citibank executive, are eager to win Western support in the middle of crucial negotiations with the IMF.
Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca made clear during a visit in July that an easing of tension over Kashmir would improve Washington's relations with Islamabad.
The military regime has already borrowed $450 million in high-interest standby loans since the IMF restarted lending in November last year. But now Islamabad wants to persuade the fund to move up to a much larger, cheaper and more flexible credit line, the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, which is worth several billion dollars and which would include major debt rescheduling.
Islamabad already owes $37 billion in foreign loans. Debt servicing and defense spending eat up two-thirds of the budget every year.
Western governments have largely welcomed Gen. Musharraf's promise of elections next year, even though it is clear he will remain in control of the country as president.
The army, through a powerful National Security Council, will still have a major policy role.


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