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Musharraf seeks clerics' help against extremism
Updated: 2004-02-19 13:51

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf sought support from Islamic scholars Wednesday in efforts to curb Islamic militancy and urged tribal leaders to turn over al Qaeda and Taliban suspects they were sheltering.

Musharraf also warned that Pakistan could be ostracized internationally if it did not address global concerns that it was a hub of terrorism and was involved in nuclear proliferation.

"A movement should be launched against terrorism and extremism," he said at a conference of Islamic scholars. "Give people the message that Islam is not a religion of terrorism and extremism but is one of love and peace."

He said Pakistan could face international sanctions, an attack on its tribal region, close to the Afghan border, and even on its nuclear assets if it failed to change its image.

"We could face serious consequences if we don't play our cards right," Musharraf said.

Pakistan has stepped up efforts to track down al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in recent months in response to American concerns that Islamic militants have been using Pakistani territory to launch attacks inside Afghanistan.

A large number of Islamic militants, including al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, are thought to be hiding in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The U.S. military has said it will launch a spring offensive against Islamic rebels in Afghanistan in what could be part of a concerted effort to find bin Laden.

Musharraf's remarks to Islamic scholars came as he faces strong opposition from hard-line Islamic groups for his support to the U.S.-led war on terror.

Musharraf said Pakistan itself could come under attack if it did not track down Islamic militants.

Musharraf said his government had told tribal elders to hand over foreign suspects hiding in the region.

"If you surrender them, you will not be handed over to any other country. It is my promise," he added.

After the recent admission that Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the country's atom bomb, had peddled nuclear secrets abroad, Musharraf said Pakistan was also facing serious accusations about nuclear proliferation.

"Our vital national interest, our nuclear and missile program ... could be harmed physically," he warned.

"We have to assure the world that Pakistan is a responsible nation and was neither involved in the illicit proliferation of nuclear capability (at present) nor in the future," he said.

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