- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan Pakistan's fundamentalist religious leaders, in an attempt to whip up sentiments against the government's decision to support the U.S. campaign against terrorism, urged their followers to observe a nationwide strike tomorrow.
"There is no legal or moral justification for the U.S. attack, which we call terrorism," Sami Haq, the turbaned cleric who heads Pakistan's Jamiyat Ulemai Islam party, said yesterday. "This attack will destabilize the whole region. The American attack is simply a pretext, as the United States did in the [Persian] Gulf 10 years ago, to conquer all of central Asia, including China."
The Jamiyat Ulemai Islam party has strong links with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement, accused by the Bush administration of sheltering the terrorists behind the strikes in New York and Washington last week. Several Taliban leaders have studied at Islamic seminaries run by Mr. Haq.
He said the country's religious parties were initiating a major campaign tomorrow to "mobilize and organize the masses against the U.S. attack because it will lead to an unending war in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Addressing a news conference at the Rawalpindi Press Club near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the cleric said the Pakistani government was "responsible for all this by accommodating the United States."
Another fundamentalist leader, Kazi Hussain Ahmad, head of the Jamaat-I-Islami party, said Pakistanis should "bring the country to a complete halt on September 21 to show the government that they oppose its decision to cooperate with the United States."
"Our army has become a tributary force of the United States. They now follow orders from Washington, not from God," said Mr. Ahmad, referring to Pakistan's military government.
The call for a strike was seen as a move to pre-empt President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's appeal to the Pakistani nation to support his decision to back the United States. Gen. Musharraf made the appeal in an emotional, nationally televised address soon after the religious leaders spoke.
Mr. Haq, who is seen as the closest ally of the Taliban in Pakistan, said the United States wants to destroy the ailing Pakistani economy.
"The Pakistani armed forces must defend us against the U.S. attack. Otherwise, there will be a direct confrontation between the masses and the armed forces," he said.
While talking to Pakistani intellectuals in Islamabad on Tuesday, Mr. Musharraf said he agreed to accept the U.S. demands to save Pakistan's economy and its nuclear weapons.
Addressing about 100 reporters and photographers in a 30-by-20-foot room, Mr. Haq, sporting a dyed red beard, rejected the president's claim.
"America's real target is the nuclear facilities of Pakistan," he said.
Exploiting anti-Israeli sentiments among his followers, Mr. Haq said, "Israel was clearly behind the terrorist attacks in New York and in Washington, and the proof is that 4,000 Jews, normally working in the [World Trade Center] towers, did not report for work on the morning of Sept. 11."
Surrounded by friendly Pakistani journalists who took turns interpreting him, Mr. Haq warned: "The U.S. attack will generate hatred in the whole world against the United States, which will lead to the collapse of the U.S. economy."
Suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, he said, was not the real target, but the Islamic government of Afghanistan. Even if bin Laden is captured, he said, "the [holy war] will continue against the United States."
Distributed by United Press International

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