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Could War in Iraq Fuel Extremism in Pakistan? - 2003-03-18


Human rights activists in Pakistan are warning they believe a U.S.-led military action against Iraq is likely to fuel extremism and repression in Pakistan.

Speaking at a news conference in the Pakistani capital, officials of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan say that a U.S.-led war on Iraq, without the approval of the United Nations, will undermine moderate voices in the Muslim world.

They say that war will also encourage regimes allied with Washington to act with impunity.

A senior member of the commission, Asma Jehangir, said a war in Iraq will fuel the rise of the religious right in the Muslim world. "We believe that the policies that the United States is following with its allies have completely marginalized any progressive, any balanced point of view in the Muslim world," she said. "And the future leaders that we see in the Muslim world will have to be extremists. And that is our fear that after the war in Iraq we may find more difficulties here [in Pakistan]."

Ms. Jehangir criticized the United States for supporting President General Pervez Musharraf in return for his support in the war on terrorism. She said this has encouraged Pakistan's military rulers to ignore the rule of law and suppress dissent. "There is a complete carte blanche by the international community to our military dictators," she said. "They are not answerable at all to the international community and they are not answerable to the people of Pakistan."

Ms. Jehangir said the war on terror is being used to justify detention without trial and deportations of foreign terror suspects without legal process. She said that according to the findings of her commission, there has been a sharp increase in extra-judicial killings and torture by the police during the past year.

Ms. Jehangir accused military intelligence agents of threatening and harassing journalists and members of parliament who questioned the army's role in domestic politics. "This is a year when the government has worked not only with impunity, but this government has worked without shame in oppressing people," she said.

Pakistani President Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999. Under pressure from the world community, he held general elections last October. Independent observers say the vote was heavily rigged in favor of political parties backed by Mr. Musharraf's regime.

Hard-line Islamic parties also made strong gains in the election, mainly by exploiting opposition to U.S. military action in neighboring Afghanistan.

Mr. Musharraf rejects the criticism of rigging, saying that he has transferred power in a transparent way.

But before the general election to return Pakistan to democracy, President Musharraf amended the constitution to allow himself another five years in office and to give himself powers to dismiss an elected government. The constitutional changes remain under fire from his political opponents.

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