India wary despite arrests

Pakistan rounds up 1,430 extremists on leader's orders

Kashmir tensions still high

Musharraf action appears to have wide public support

January 15, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The government has rounded up 1,430 people across Pakistan in recent days and closed 390 offices of militant groups as part of a widening crackdown on extremists ordered by the country's military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, a senior police official said yesterday.

Most of the arrests have occurred since Saturday, when Musharraf, in a televised speech, pledged to Pakistan and the world that he would purge Pakistan's society of spreading extremism and prevent Pakistan from being used as a base for international terrorism.

Despite the action, Indian officials said yesterday their country remained poised for battle if Pakistan did not act quickly or broadly enough.

For the first time, Pakistan said the arrests were to include militants inside the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir, said the official, speaking by telephone from the southern city of Karachi. The disputed Himalayan region is divided between India and Pakistan, and India has threatened war unless Pakistan clamps down on militants that it says are waging an insurgency supported from the Pakistani side.

The Pakistani authorities have identified 3,000 people, including extremists in its Kashmiri sector, they want to arrest, the official said, adding that both India and the United States should clearly see that Musharraf was serious about his pledges.

"We've picked up both leaders and rank-and-file members of the militant groups," the official said.

But even as Musharraf expanded his crackdown, India's defense minister, George Fernandes, said yesterday that India, remained on high alert.

"Any efforts at de-escalation can come only - I repeat, only - if and when cross-border terrorism is effectively stopped," Fernandes said at a news conference in New Delhi, India. He added that Musharraf "has to do it fast, particularly because troops from both sides are on the front lines."

The remarks signaled that India would keep up its pressure on Pakistan as the Bush administration engaged in intensive diplomacy to scale down tensions between the nuclear rivals.

India and Pakistan are awaiting a visit this week by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and Fernandes is going to the United States next week to meet with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

While the American government does not want to become a mediator in the Kashmir dispute, it fears the consequences of a war between India and Pakistan, and does not want resources and attention diverted from its global campaign to crush the terror network of Osama bin Laden.

In frequent phone calls, President Bush and Powell have urged Musharraf to forge ahead with curbs on extremists and they have also urged India to ease back from its threat of attack.

While India has demanded a speedy crackdown from Pakistan on the militants that have bled Indian forces with a 12-year insurgency in Kashmir, those rounded up by Pakistan so far are divided evenly between people devoted to the Kashmir struggle and members of extreme Islamic groups that are blamed for hundreds of sectarian assassinations in recent years inside Pakistan, the Pakistani police official said.

Some of those arrested have been involved in both the Kashmir fighting as well as the violence in Pakistan, officials said.

The Pakistani police official said the targets of arrests in Kashmir would include members of two groups, recently banned, that India holds responsible for an attack on Parliament last month that set off the current tensions and the buildup of military forces along the border.

India also charges that those two groups, the Army of the Pure and the Army of Muhammad, were responsible for a car bomb at the state assembly in Kashmir that killed 40 people in October.

As his sweep for extremists proceeds, Musharraf appears to enjoy wide public support.

But conservative clerics and leaders of banned Islamic groups say that Musharraf is courting unrest and that he has to walk a careful line on the Kashmir question because most citizens and the military feel deeply committed to the "liberation" of Kashmir, which is predominantly Muslim.

Mullah Abdul Aziz, imam of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, warned yesterday of a counterreaction by angry Muslims.

"This government is paving the way for Islamic revolution by creating hurdles for the Islamic parties," he told Reuters.

But Musharraf is banking on public disgust with sectarian violence, and the prospect that Pakistan could be isolated internationally and branded as a sponsor of terrorism.

"We are not targeting Islamic political figures, but Islamic militant figures," the police official said.

Some leaders of banned groups have escaped arrest and issued statements of defiance, saying that their organizations will continue underground or under new names and that the holy war in Kashmir will not be deterred.

The sweeps have raised civil liberties issues, because suspects are usually held under the Maintenance of Public Order ordinance, which allows police to detain people for 30 days simply by declaring them a threat to public order. Eventually, many of those arrested will probably be charged with possession of illegal weapons, officials said.

Lists of suspects were drawn up by provincial police departments, civil intelligence bureaus and the military's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

The authorities said they decided to move quickly, without formal charges, because they feared that many suspects would disappear.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.