Lawmakers jeer Pakistan president's speech

Leader vows to target religious extremists

January 18, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Hard-line Islamist lawmakers walked out and secular deputies jeered yesterday as Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, delivered his first speech to the nation's Parliament since seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

Musharraf, who narrowly survived two assassination attempts by suspected militants last month, showed no sign of backing off from a renewed promise to crack down on religious extremism or from a historic agreement reached this month to hold peace talks with India.

"We will have to launch a massive operation against those foreign elements in our border areas who can be a cause of terrorism in our country and Afghanistan," Musharraf said.

"The curse of extremism, by a handful of persons, is damaging the country internally," he said later.

In a 40-minute address that was broadcast to the nation, Musharraf said the country was threatened by a "negative image" because it is seen as promoting an Islamic insurgency in Kashmir, the Indian state that is a main source of contention between Pakistan and India; failing to crack down on Taliban supporters along the Afghan border; spreading nuclear weapons technology to other countries; and being an "intolerant society."

The general called that image inaccurate and said a vast majority of Pakistanis were "moderates who totally reject extremism." He urged Pakistanis to "wage a `jihad' against extremism."

Tariq Rehman, a professor at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, said Musharraf was trying to signal that he was committed to reform.

"He wants the United States to know `I will stick to this,'" Rehman said. "He is giving a message both to India and the U.S."

While such blunt language may please American and Indian ears, the walkout and the jeering from the lawmakers showed that the general still faces serious domestic political opposition.

Last month, Musharraf struck a deal with an alliance of hard-line Islamist parties intended to end a yearlong deadlock in Parliament. Under the deal, the Islamist members of Parliament voted for the ratification of some of the constitutional amendments Musharraf unilaterally enacted in August 2002. In exchange, the general promised to resign as army chief of staff by the end of this year, ostensibly giving up some of the sweeping power he wields, although he will continue as president.

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