- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

PESHAWAR, Pakistan An anti-American Islamist leader was elected chief minister yesterday of a Pakistani border province that is crucial in the hunt for remnants of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Mohammed Akram Durrani, leader of a six-party pro-Taliban alliance was elected chief minister of the tribal North West Frontier Province that borders Afghanistan.
The spacious hall of the provincial legislature rang with shouts of "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) when he was declared winner, securing 78 out of the assembly's 124 votes.
The Islamist alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), also emerged as the largest group in the asPresident Bush creates a commission to look into the September 11 attacks; the U.S.-Saudi relationshipsembly of southwestern Baluchistan province, which also borders Afghanistan, though it does not have a majority there.
The MMA pulled a major surprise in the Oct. 10 parliamentary elections when it emerged as the third-largest force in the national parliament and the largest in the two key provinces bordering Afghanistan.
On Wednesday the MMA's Bakht Jahan Khan was elected speaker of the North West Frontier Province's assembly.
On Monday the pro-Taliban clerics vowed to introduce strict Islamic law in the province and to end the U.S. military presence there. U.S. Special Forces are hunting Taliban and al Qaeda forces in the border provinces with the help of the Pakistani army.
A victory in the province, however, does not give the MMA the power to end the U.S. presence. Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who was sworn in Nov. 23, has said he would continue President Pervez Musharraf's foreign policy.
The provincial government has no power over the army, and under a law passed last week, the federal government will be able to override any provincial orders in the interests of national security.
The alliance's electoral success was an unwelcome surprise to the Musharraf government and to the United States, because the region has been the focus of the search for al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives believed to have entered the province from Afghanistan earlier year this year.
The MMA is also opposed to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and has called for an end to The United States' use of Pakistan's air bases and the presence of FBI agents who have taken part in police raids in the province.
"There is no need for U.S. troops and FBI agents to catch terrorists," said Liaquat Baluch, deputy leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the dominant parties in the MMA. "Our own forces are capable of doing this job."
The MMA also wants Gen. Musharraf to give up the post of the army chief and seek confirmation of his office from the national parliament. Gen. Musharraf was elected president in a referendum in April, which the opposition says was rigged, and was sworn in president for five more years recently.
Although the new prime minister is an ally of the president, he leads a fragile coalition of disparate political parties. Earlier this week, one of the supporting parties, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), switched to the opposition after a difference with the new government.


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