Pakistan's president reins in foes

Musharraf reshuffles army and government, arrests opposition leader

Makes overture to enemy India

War On Terrorism

The World

October 09, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - As the United States and Britain launched a second day of airstrikes against Afghanistan, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, appeared in control of this front-line ally in America's war against terrorism.

Despite riots yesterday in cities near the Afghan border, including the desert oasis of Quetta where protesters burned buildings and cars, most of this nation of 141 million remained relatively peaceful.

While strengthening his control at home - moving aside government officials sympathetic to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban - Musharraf also made an overture to a bitter enemy, India.

He telephoned Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to urge that their nations cooperate against terrorism.

It was the first time they had spoken since an unsuccessful meeting in July, and it was even more unusual that they would broach the issue of "terrorism," a subject of bitter disagreement because it relates to the two countries' tug of war over Kashmir.

"They had a very cordial conversation, and President Musharraf told him that both the countries should fight terrorism together," a source close to the president told Reuters news service. "This will facilitate weeding out terrorism from this region."

Analysts said Musharraf seemed to have ably weathered the first round of anti-government protests set off by Pakistan's alliance with the United States and the bombing of Afghanistan.

"I think there is no danger to him," said K.M. Arif, a retired general who commanded the Pakistani army from 1984 to 1987. "He's pretty well in the saddle."

In recent days, Musharraf has sought to consolidate power within the military and cripple the ability of opponents to spark unrest. The president's main opposition is made up of militant Islamic fundamentalists and their political parties, which are antagonistic to the West and sympathetic to Afghanistan's Taliban leadership.

Pakistani officials detained Maulana Samiul Haq, leader of a faction of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI), at the airport in Islamabad. Haq runs a religious school in Pakistan's North West Frontier province. The school has trained leaders of the Taliban, the militant Islamic fundamentalists who control about 90 percent of Afghan territory. Haq is the second Islamic leader detained here since Sunday.

Observers here gave Musharraf high marks for reshuffling the nation's military leadership and shunting to the side those connected to the Taliban. Hours before U.S. and British submarines and ships launched cruise missiles and jets toward Afghanistan, Musharraf sidelined key players involved in the nation's failed policy of supporting the Taliban.

Musharraf has incurred the wrath of Taliban sympathizers in his country by supporting U.S. strikes against the renegade regime. The president has allowed U.S. planes to fly over Pakistani territory to hit targets in Afghanistan, and promised to provide intelligence and logistical assistance.

Despite threats from fundamentalists, huge, violent demonstrations failed to materialize throughout much of the nation yesterday. An afternoon drive through Rawalpindi found most residents busy at work as if the day were any other. In the city's bazaar, merchants in traditional baggy pants and flowing shirts sold bananas, apples and grapes from sidewalk stalls amid the chaotic traffic of motor scooters, bicycles and horse-drawn carts.

Some in Rawalpindi said they supported Musharraf's controversial decision to back a U.S. attack on Afghanistan for refusing to hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. Others who opposed Musharraf's position said they couldn't muster the energy to demonstrate against it because they couldn't see how their actions would influence global policy.

Asked why he did not protest, Baha-ud-Din, 45, answered succinctly: "No point."

"People are sleeping," said the radio repairman, who runs an open-air stall where the wooden shelves are piled high with dusty radios. "America is a big power. He can do anything."

Many who protested yesterday did so in moderate numbers and somewhat ritualized fashion.

"Stay here, you're about to see a good demonstration," said a man in Islamabad as vendors followed instructions from loudspeakers and rolled down metal shutters over their businesses in preparation for a protest.

Following afternoon prayers, several thousand worshipers poured from a pair of mosques and into the streets, where they confronted hundreds of police armed with shotguns, helmets and riot shields. Like other protests in recent weeks, this one did not stretch beyond the nation's small percentage of Islamic fundamentalists and their political parties into the country's mainstream.

Although some of the nation's religious parties have a reputation for "street power," together they rarely poll much beyond 5 percent in national elections in this politically moderate Muslim country.

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