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Musharraf meets with hardline Islamic leaders

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- President Gen. Pervez Musharraf met Monday with leaders of six conservative Islamic parties in an effort to improve ties with groups that have strongly opposed the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

State-run television showed Musharraf greeting the leaders, who wore the long dark robes and white skullcaps. He sought to assure them he was committed to keeping Pakistan an Islamic, not secular, state, according to one of the leaders, Allama Shah Ahmad Noorani.

Among those who agreed to meet with Musharraf was Maulana Samiul Haq, a pro-Taliban cleric influential with radical groups that carried out protests and rallies opposing the war against terrorism. Another was Qazi Hussain Ahmad, head of Pakistan's largest fundamentalist Islamic group, Jamaat-e-Islami.

Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, abandoned the Afghan Taliban and allowed American forces to use bases in Pakistan in support of operations in Afghanistan. Ahmad, Haq and others have demanded that U.S. forces leave.

Musharraf has also banned several Islamic extremist groups and has pushed for changes in the curriculum at Quranic schools to introduce math, sciences and English language instruction.

During Monday's meeting, Musharraf dismissed accusations that his measures against Islamic radicalism amounted to a move away from Islamic values.

"There is no truth in such reports," Musharraf told the leaders, according to the state-run news agency, Associated Press of Pakistan.

Musharraf also told them their parties will have full freedom to run in the Oct. 10 elections for the national and provincial assemblies.

The religious leaders gave Musharraf a memorandum outlining their grievances and demanding fair and free elections. Their six parties are part of a political alliance, the Mutahida Majalis-e-Amal or United Action Committee.

They expressed opposition to changes in the country's constitution proposed by Musharraf that would him new powers to dismiss any prime minister chosen by parliament after elections.

They told Musharraf that an elected parliament should be the only forum for amending the country's constitution. Ahmad warned Musharraf that most Pakistanis oppose the constitutional changes, according to Noorani and others present.

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