Musharraf pledges to battle terror

But speech unlikely to mollify India over Kashmir issue


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, pledged yesterday that his country would not be used as a base for terrorism of any kind and announced a broad ban on militant groups accused of fomenting violence in Indian-held Kashmir, as well as at home.

"No organization will be allowed to perpetuate terrorism behind the garb of the Kashmiri cause," Musharraf said in an hourlong televised address. "We will take strict action against any Pakistani who is involved in terrorism inside the country or abroad."

But the speech, delivered as more than a half-million Indian troops stood poised to attack, gave few specific responses to India's demand for an end to cross-border terrorism. The demand was issued with the mounting threat of force after an attack on the Indian Parliament on Dec. 13 by what India says were Kashmiri militants with roots in Pakistan.

Musharraf also defiantly restated Pakistan's unyielding political support for the cause of Kashmiri Muslims.

Officials in New Delhi had no immediate public response, saying they would reserve their comments until today.

In Washington, the Bush administration praised the general's remarks.

"We really do think it was an excellent speech," said a senior administration official. "It was categorical in its condemnation of the two groups, in particular, and of violence in Pakistani society generally."

The official repeated that Washington had pressed New Delhi to take time to react to the speech and to consider its response in measured terms.

The steps announced by Musharraf, however, appeared unlikely to satisfy India, which has threatened war unless Pakistani support for guerrilla war and bombings in Kashmir is ended. Musharraf appeared to be calculating that he was offering enough to stave off an attack as the two countries await the visit this week of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Musharraf warned India that Pakistan would respond "with all our might" to any Indian incursion. Most of the speech was devoted to an indictment of religious extremism and intolerance in Pakistan, which has been increasingly torn by sectarian violence during the past decade.

Underscoring the point, more than 200 religious militants were detained yesterday, in addition to several hundred other extremists detained in the past week.

Last night, Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and soon began questioning the breakdown of tolerance and law, issued his most sweeping statement yet on extremism, intolerance and violence in Pakistan, whose founders had a vision of a more moderate Islamic nation.

He called religious extremists, including militant sects and a growing movement in support of international jihad, or holy war, a "state within a state" that must be curbed.

"The day of reckoning has come," he said. "Do we want Pakistan to become a theocratic state?"

He added: "Or do we want Pakistan to emerge as a dynamic Islamic welfare state?"

He announced broad new rules to govern the religious seminaries, or madrasas, that have served as crucibles for Islamic militancy and violence in Afghanistan, Kashmir and elsewhere.

Musharraf pointedly banned two major groups blamed for violence in Kashmir and India -- Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Previously, their leaders had been arrested and their accounts frozen after the United States declared them to be terrorist groups.

Members of the banned groups reacted with outrage yesterday, with some calling Musharraf a puppet of America.

Musharraf rejected the Indian demand that Pakistan hand over 20 men accused by India of responsibility for terrorist acts in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

"There is no question of handing over any Pakistani," he said. "This will never be done."

His statement left open the chance that some men on the list with Indian citizenship could be extradited.

"If we are given evidence against these people, we will take action against them under our own laws," he said.

He said the question of Kashmir -- a cause of wars and rebellion since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 -- must be solved by peaceful means, but he warned India, "Kashmir runs in our blood," and restated Pakistan's intention to provide "moral and diplomatic support" to the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir.

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