- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Police rounded up hundreds of militant Islamists yesterday and blocked their leader from addressing an anti-American rally scheduled for today near an airbase used by U.S. forces in the campaign against Afghanistan.
The crackdown on militants, who have become increasingly active since the onset of U.S. air strikes on Oct. 7, marked a major escalation of an effort by the government of President Pervez Musharraf to contain growing anger against the United States.
The militants belonged to Pakistan's largest Islamic party, whose leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, has been traveling throughout the country calling for an Islamic revolution and condemning the United States as terrorists for bombing Afghanistan.
Police yesterday blocked Mr. Ahmad from boarding a plane to travel to the southern town of Jacobabad, where U.S. forces are using an air base to provide logistical support for operations inside Afghanistan.
"The days of this government are numbered, and Musharraf will no longer be in power after a few days," Mr. Ahmad told reporters at the airport in Lahore after he was prevented from boarding. Mr. Ahmad, who heads the Jamaat-e-Islami party, declined to elaborate.
Reports of civilian casualties from the daily pounding of Afghanistan most of which remain unconfirmed have stoked anger in Pakistan and throughout the Muslim world, forcing many leaders to hedge their support for the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism.
Gen. Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 military coup, is no exception. Yesterday he called for the air campaign to end before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in mid-November.
"One would hope and wish that this campaign comes to an end before the month of Ramadan, because this would certainly have some negative effects in the Muslim world," he said.
Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, targeted by the U.S. air strikes for his role in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, has made a career of promoting hatred toward the United States throughout the Muslim world.
Today he is worshipped by tens of millions of Muslims from Indonesia to the Middle East, either as an innocent victim of U.S. aggression or as a hero for killing more than 5,000 people in the suicide attacks on New York and Washington.
A popular poster featured at anti-U.S. protests here features bin Laden's picture against the backdrop of the Twin Towers in flames, just moments before they collapsed.
Washington demands that Afghanistan, which has sheltered bin Laden since 1996, hand him over before it will stop bombing. But Afghanistan's Taliban government remained defiant yesterday as the air strikes continued.
"I hope that almighty God will make the Islamic Emirate [of Afghanistan] victorious over the oppressive American government," supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar said in a statement carried by the Afghan Islamic Press. In Pakistan, leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami said they would attempt to hold today's rally despite the arrests.
The party claimed that more than 1,000 of its members had been detained, while police put the number at 240.
In Jacobabad last week. police opened fire on protesters who were attempting to storm the air base, killing two.
Meanwhile, a refugee crisis at Pakistan's southern border crossing of Chaman continued yesterday with hundreds of Afghans dashing through a 200-yard-wide no man's land, ripping through barbed wire to enter Pakistan. Police beat back some refugees with bamboo sticks and fired shots into the air, but hundreds made it through.
An estimated 15,000 refugees remain stranded on the Afghan side of the border, which Pakistan kept closed yesterday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan said Pakistan would provide for the most vulnerable refugees, but otherwise only Afghans with valid papers would be allowed in.
"We have said again and again that we already have 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan," Mr. Khan said. "We are not in a position to take care of massive flows of refugees."
The United Nations estimates that between 50,000 and 60,000 Afghans have crossed the border since Sept. 11.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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