Musharraf seeks clerics' help

ISLAMABAD Dec. 4. The Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, has said the decision of the Government to ban several extremist groups was part of its determination to combat the twin challenges of terrorism and sectarianism faced by the country.

Addressing a delegation of ulema (clerics) and mushaikh (spiritual leaders) here, Gen. Musharraf sought their cooperation in fighting the challenge. "We need to fight terrorism and sectarianism together. The Government is ready to provide all help in this regard," Gen. Musharraf told the delegation.

The nearly 80-member delegation was invited by the President for the meeting. Representatives of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a grouping of six religious parties, were not invited.

He chose the occasion to dwell on the measures taken by him to crush extremism and asserted that the Government was committed to fighting the menace root and branch. The interactive meeting, which has become an annual feature since 9/11, is seen as an effort by Gen. Musharraf to convince the Muslim scholars that the Government was acting against religious extremism in the national interest.

He did make a reference to the confidence-building measures proposed by Pakistan to improve relations with New Delhi, which included ceasefire on the Line of Control, and said Pakistan expected Muslim countries to throw their weight behind a just resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Gen. Musharraf told the members that the Government considered the ulema and mushaikh a very important segment of society and wanted to continue consultations with them on issues of international and regional significance.

He wanted the ulema to play a key role in further improving the ties with the people of other Muslim countries. He asked them to use their influence to make the country a "peace zone".

An official statement said the ulema and mushaikh assured all support to Gen. Musharraf. They, however, stressed that Pakistan should not send any troops to Iraq or compromise on its stand on Kashmir.

The President promised that the religious leaders would be consulted before taking important decisions.

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