A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Islaamic Bloc want US out|
|11/11/02 at 05:42:20|
|Source: Associated Press|
A leader of Pakistan's religious right, coming off the bloc's best election showing in the country's 55-year history, demanded Saturday that the U.S. military leave the country. "We were opposed to their war in Afghanistan before and we are opposed now. The vote of the people was clear. They want them out of Pakistan," Fazl-ur Rahman told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday.
Last month's general elections, the first since military rule was imposed here in 1999, gave the religious right 59 seats out of 342 in Parliament. The pro-military party won 103 seats, far short of the 172 seats needed to form a government. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's party controls 80 seats, and may ally with the religious bloc. "People want good relations with the United States, but they want their sovereignty," he said. "They will have to respect the will of the people of Pakistan."
The six-party alliance of religious parties, of which Rahman's party is a dominant partner, campaigned almost exclusively on an anti-American platform. It demanded U.S. soldiers leave Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, criticizing President Pervez Musharraf's support for the war on terror.
His voice soft, his head swathed in his trademark orange turban, Rahman chose his words carefully. He said he did not want to answer questions about the Taliban and al- Qaida, or about them finding sanctuary here under a government that included the religious right. "These are issues we will speak about in detail after the government is formed," he said.
But his lieutenant, Mir Hussain Gillani, a squat white-bearded cleric who sat at his side, said his party's policies are clear. "Absolutely the Americans will be told to go. Leave Pakistan. This is our country," said Gillani.
He also said that it was the religious duty of every Muslim Pakistani to protect and offer sanctuary to Taliban and al-Qaida. He said Osama Bin Laden was not a terrorist, but "Osama is one of the biggest followers of Islam. And what has he done? What has the United States and the West proven that he has done?"
Gillani is vice president of Rahman's Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, or Party of Islamic Clerics. He said that the Taliban were attacked by the U.S.-led coalition because "America is an enemy of Islam. It is our duty to give protection to the oppressed Muslims and America is the biggest oppressor."
Last week the religious bloc and a pro-democracy alliance, which includes Bhutto's party, reached a tentative agreement that would give them enough seats to form the new civilian government in Pakistan. They then said Rahman would be their likely candidate for prime minister, though negotiations continue.
The pro-military party still says it can form a government. Rahman is talking to them but they don't want him as prime minister. He says that's not negotiable. Some of the parties within the pro-democracy alliance, including Bhutto's party, may break away. Some are questioning Rahman as prime minister and threatening to give their support to the pro-military government.
With all this confusion, the president postponed the convening of Parliament while the politicians wrangle for power. Analysts say the religious bloc, whether in the government or in opposition, will be a powerful force and that their platform will have to be considered and their supporters accommodated. That could mean an increasing number of religious right followers in key ministries, like the Interior Ministry, which controls security and police and is the supposed watchdog for fleeing Taliban and al-Qaida.
Rahman's religious right compatriots gained control of the two provinces that border Afghanistan, a region that is strategically crucial to the U.S. campaign. U.S. intelligence suspects that top Taliban and al-Qaida leaders are hiding in both the North West Frontier Province and southwestern Baluchistan. Rahman said there are no Taliban hiding there. But most of Rahman's supporters sympathize with the Taliban. At Rahman's election rallies, supporters waved posters of Bin Laden.
Rahman accused the United States of trying to keep the religious right out of power in the frontier provinces. "We are getting the impression that America is trying to prevent us from forming the government, putting hurdles in our way. This would be a mistake, a lost opportunity," he said. "We should learn about each other, so that they can understand us and we can understand them," Rahman said, sitting in a modest government- operated housing unit. "We should not waste this chance."
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board