Pakistan detains more militants

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani police brought in hundreds more Islamic militants for questioning Monday as part of a crackdown that included anti-India extremists. But India was not impressed, and both nations refused to withdraw hundreds of thousands of troops massed along their border.

Hopes that the standoff could be resolved had risen after a speech Saturday by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf banning five militant Muslim organizations, including two accused of terrorism in Indian-controlled Kashmir, and placing other curbs on Islamic extremists.

The speech was coupled with a nationwide police sweep that by Monday had led to the detention of nearly 1,500 extremists, the Interior Ministry said. Most were expected to be released after questioning.

Indian officials welcomed Musharraf's promise to stamp out terrorism but were waiting for tangible signs. On Monday, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said his government would not withdraw its troops from the frontier with Pakistan until cross-border terrorism stops.

"The mobilization of Indian forces is complete, and any effort at de-escalation can come only, repeat only, if and when the cross-border terrorism comes to a stop," he told reporters in New Delhi.

Hours later, Pakistani officials said their buildup also would be maintained. Maj. Gen. Rashid Quereshi, Musharraf's spokesman, said, "Pakistan is constrained to keep what it requires for its defense close to the border," as long as India does.

Artillery fired into Kashmir

Adding to tensions, Indian border security forces said Pakistani troops fired grenade launchers and heavy artillery Monday into Indian-controlled Kashmir, prompting an hour-long exchange -- the fiercest since the Musharraf speech. Pakistani army officials said Musharraf visited an undisclosed front-line post late Monday.

The confrontation between the two nuclear powers was expected to be high on the agenda both for Secretary of State Colin Powell, scheduled to arrive to Islamabad on Wednesday, and Fernandes, the Indian defense minister, who departs for Washington on Tuesday.

Powell is also scheduled to meet Indian leaders in New Delhi and go briefly to Afghanistan ahead of attending an Afghan donors' summit in Tokyo.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the "situation remains dangerous." But he suggested Musharraf's speech and positive Indian comments offered a chance to ease tensions. Boucher called the speech "a bold and a principled stand against terrorism and extremism both inside and outside of Pakistan."

Indian and Pakistani troops moved to the border after a deadly Dec. 13 attack on India's Parliament. India has accused Pakistan's spy agency and two Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups of being behind the attack.

Pakistan's government denied involvement, as did the two groups. Musharraf nonetheless banned them Saturday night, after previously detaining their leaders and many members.

India accuses Pakistan of training, funding, arming, and providing covering fire to Islamic militants who cross the 1,100-mile border to launch attacks in India.

The crackdown on extremists began Saturday. Quereshi said Monday that the operation was close to finished, but police sources said it could continue for several more days.

Influential religious leaders urged the country's 140 million Muslims to protest the bans and arrests.

"Jihad runs in our blood, and it can't be eliminated just by banning few groups in the country," said Maulana Samiul Haq, chief of the Afghan Defense Council, a coalition of 35 pro-Taliban Islamic militant groups.

He called on all Muslims to join in an anti-government demonstration Jan. 27 in Peshawar, 75 miles west of Islamabad.

The council was behind violent demonstrations organized in October to protest Pakistan's decision to back the United States and its allies in the Afghan conflict. More than a dozen people died in those rallies.

The present military mobilization is the largest since the 1971 India-Pakistan war. Pakistan says it has roughly 200,000 troops at the common border, and estimates India's at 650,000. Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority region. Pakistan wants a vote in Kashmir in line with U.N. resolutions to decide whether its residents want to join mostly Muslim Pakistan, stay with India or gain independence. India rejects the proposal.

The latest confrontation began Oct. 1, when a suicide bombing at the legislature building in Indian Kashmir killed 40 people. Jaish-e-Mohammed -- one of the two anti-India groups banned by Musharraf -- claimed responsibility and then denied involvement two days later.

Tensions escalated on Dec. 13, when five armed gunmen stormed the Indian Parliament complex in New Delhi and opened fire. The five attackers, and nine Indians, died.

India claims the five assailants were Pakistani nationals working for Pakistani intelligence. Pakistan denied any role.

Musharraf's ban on extremist groups does not extend to all Kashmir separatist organizations. More than a dozen are allied in an umbrella organization, the United Jihad Council, which said Sunday that the "armed freedom struggle" would continue.

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