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Pakistan Detains 1,500 Suspected Extremists - 2002-01-14

The Pakistan Government has detained at least 1,500 people, in an on-going nationwide crackdown against alleged religious extremists in the country.

Pakistani officials say the detainees are members of five Islamic groups President General Pervez Musharraf banned during a national speech, Saturday.

A senior official of the interior ministry says the religious activists are detained on suspicion they could indulge in activities threatening public peace and obstructing implementation of the orders. Pakistani authorities have also sealed hundreds of offices of the banned groups, which include two of the most-militant organizations fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. India accuses them of organizing a deadly attack on its parliament last month.

The incident has heightened tensions in the region, raising fears of a fourth war between India and Pakistan. New Delhi is demanding that Islamabad rein in Islamic militants it says are fueling an armed insurgency in Kashmir.

In his speech Saturday, General Musharraf vowed that no group in Pakistan would be allowed to indulge in terrorism "behind the garb of the Kashmir cause."

But a Pakistani spokesman, Major-General Rashid Qureshi dismisses the impression that the government is cracking down on Islamic militants under pressure from India and the United States. He says the move is part of efforts to root out religious extremism from Pakistan. "There have been incidents of individuals who belong to these groups that have been involved in trying to incite violence, and I think there is ample proof of that," he said. "There have been various statements made and various actions taken by these groups for which they will be proceeded against according to law."

India has welcomed Pakistan's decision to move against separatist militants based in Pakistan. But Indian leaders say their forces will stay mobilized near the border until New Delhi is satisfied that Pakistan has matched words with actions.

Spokesman Qureshi says Pakistani forces will also stay on Indian border until India begins to de-escalate. "Pakistan is constrained to keep what it requires for its defense close to the borders," said General Quereshi. "And this what gives rise to friction and increased tension. We expect the Indian armed forces to move back to their peace locations and thereby lessen or reduce tensions."

Both Pakistan and India are under intense pressure from the international community, led by the United States, to end their largest military standoff in 15 years.

Secretary of State Colin Powel is visiting Pakistan and India this week to try to defuse the tensions.