Pakistani president warns protesters against trying to spread disorder

Wednesday, October 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Fed up with chaotic protests, Pakistan's military ruler promised Wednesday to deal firmly with anyone who attacks public property or acts against the national interest.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf also summoned top security officials and the governors of Pakistan's four provinces for a meeting Thursday to review the security situation during U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan, government spokesman Anwar Mahmood said.

Musharraf vowed during a Cabinet meeting to deal ``firmly and swiftly'' with agitators, the government news agency said. The warning was aimed at leaders of anti-American, anti-government demonstrations that have been staged recently in major cities.

At least five people have died when protests turned violent, and the angry demonstrations have been broadcast worldwide. Militant Islamic political leaders, suddenly granted a global audience, have called for holy war on the United States and condemned Musharraf for his support of the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism.

On Wednesday, the Afghan Defense Council, a pro-Taliban alliance of 35 Islamic and militant groups, issued a fresh call for nationwide demonstrations Friday _ the Muslim holy day _ to protest the airstrikes on Afghanistan.

Musharraf blamed much of the situation on ``disinformation and rumor-mongering,'' saying whatever unrest exists in Pakistan has been exaggerated by political leaders whipping up Islamic fervor.

More than 5,000 protesters took to the streets Wednesday in Karachi, a city of 14 million. Holding banners and brandishing sticks, they chanted slogans against America and President Bush, promising to recruit 10,000 fighters to take part in a jihad, or holy war, on Afghanistan's behalf.

Violence, however, has been confined largely to areas near the Afghanistan border. In many cases, the government says, Afghan refugees have been involved.

``Anyone who indulges in agitation should be sent back,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said.

Police have detained three top Muslim clerics to prevent them from organizing protests, and the government says its backing of the United States enjoys broad support.

``The government, before making this decision, consulted all sections of society,'' Khan said. ``There's peace and tranquility in the country. Life is going on normally. What better proof do you want?''

Still, the effects of American military strikes on Afghanistan are spilling across the border.

On Wednesday, Pakistani defense and intelligence sources in three different ministries said Taliban soldiers crossed into Pakistan in two separate cases earlier in the week.

Pakistani soldiers fought a two-hour gunbattle Tuesday with about 30 Taliban fighters who tried to flee into Pakistan to escape the U.S. bombing, the sources said. The fighters eventually withdrew.

On Monday, the sources said, Taliban pilots flew five helicopters across the border about 18 miles north of the Torkham border crossing, where they were detained by Pakistani authorities. The Pakistani foreign ministry denied the report.

Such incursions are not uncommon along the rugged, poorly marked border area. However, Pakistan has tightened security since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which Washington and its allies blame on Osama bin Laden, a Taliban ally holed up in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, once the Taliban's staunchest supporter, says it tried unsuccessfully to convince the orthodox militia to address international concerns on terrorism.

Musharraf said Pakistan is only sharing intelligence information and allowing U.S. planes to use its airspace. No operations against the Taliban or Afghanistan are being launched from Pakistan, he said.

Part of the Pakistani army's general headquarters in Rawalpindi, a city adjacent to Islamabad, caught fire early Wednesday. Dozens of offices burned in the five-hour blaze, a firefighting supervisor said.

Musharraf's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rashid Quereshi, attributed the fire to an electrical problem in a stationery store. The fire came two days after Musharraf reshuffled his army leadership in an apparent attempt to strengthen his power base, but there was no indication of a connection.