View Full Version : Pakistan: Taliban Must Close Consulate

November 8th, 2001, 04:50 PM
Thursday November 8 2:06 PM ET
Pakistan: Taliban Must Close Consulate

By GREG MYRE, Associated Press Writer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - In security steps directed at Islamic hard-liners at home and in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan's military government on Thursday ordered a Taliban consulate closed and said it would take tough action to maintain order during nationwide protests set for Friday.

They were the latest actions by President Pervez Musharraf's government to distance itself from Afghanistan's ruling Islamic militia and to keep close tabs on its own Islamic movements.

Gen. Musharraf is on a diplomatic tour of Europe and the United States - he meets with President Bush on Saturday - while his government is on alert for any signs of potential trouble.

Pakistan, the only country that still has diplomatic relations with the Taliban, ordered the Taliban consulate in the southern port city of Karachi shut by the end of the week.

No reason was given for the order. The head of the Taliban consulate, Rehmatuallh Kakazada, has addressed protest rallies in Pakistan and been supportive of Islamic movements in the country.

Karachi is Pakistan's main commercial and banking center and its largest city. It is also a center of Islamic fundamentalist activity and scene of the largest protests against the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Afghanistan.

A Pakistan intelligence source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the consulate was working with Islamic militants who planned to attack an air base in southern Pakistan being used by the U.S. military.

Speaking in Paris, Musharraf said his government had ``no intention'' of breaking diplomatic relations with the Taliban, which has given refuge to Osama bin Laden, the top suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The diplomatic ties provide ``a useful diplomatic window,'' said Musharraf, who met French President Jacques Chirac to discuss the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism. ``Diplomatic interaction is useful and fruitful and accepted by the coalition.''

The Taliban still have an embassy in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, and consulates in the western cities of Peshawar and Quetta, both near the Afghan border and temporary home to many Afghan refugees.

On Tuesday, Pakistan told Taliban Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef to stop giving the almost daily news conferences he has been holding on the embassy lawn - sessions attended by scores of journalists and broadcast worldwide.

Because the Taliban have allowed only a few foreign journalists into Afghanistan, Zaeef's news conferences have been the primary means for the Taliban to speak to the media. Despite the limitations, however, the ambassador remains accessible to reporters, either by telephone or at such occasions as a dinner this week for Pakistani journalists.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider warned hard-line Islamic groups to refrain from violence during their planned nationwide strike Friday, saying the government would not tolerate ``sedition and anarchy.''

The government also plans to stop funding and to monitor madrassas, or religious schools, that promote violence and extremism, Haider said.

Many senior Taliban leaders were educated at Pakistani madrassas during the 1980s, when Soviet forces occupied Afghanistan. There are now more than 700,000 students at Pakistan's 7,000 to 8,000 madrassas.

The Afghan Defense Council, an alliance of 35 Islamic groups, organized Friday's protests. The planned action coincides with a national holiday commemorating the 125th birthday of Pakistan's national poet Mohammed Iqbal.

Islamic parties have held weekly demonstrations since Pakistan declared its support for the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign. Pakistan's 145 million people are overwhelmingly Muslim but turnouts at the rallies have been relatively modest. Violence erupted at some early protests, but the demonstrations have been peaceful in recent weeks.

``We have allowed religious parties to express their point of view,'' Haider told The Associated Press in an interview.

However, he added: ``Some religious leaders are threatening to storm Islamabad, while others asking junior generals of the army to revolt. This is sedition. No government can tolerate this.''

Pakistan has also rounded up scores of activists and has placed dozens of leaders under house arrest or travel restrictions.

Mainstream political parties have supported government's stand in the current crisis, while at the same time urging a return to democracy. Musharraf seized power in a military coup in October 1999 and has pledged to hold elections next October to restore democracy.