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International Community Awaits Musharraf Speech - 2002-01-12

Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf is set to make a nationally televised speech later Saturday (1430 UTC) that is expected to focus on plans to curb religious extremism and terrorism in the country. U.S. and other Western leaders are hoping General Musharraf will offer measures that could help defuse mounting tensions between Pakistan and India, which have led to a huge military buildup along their common border.

The international community is looking to General Musharraf to outline plans to crack down on Muslim militant groups that India blames for terrorist attacks on its soil.

Tensions between the two nations have been running high since last month's terror attack on the Indian parliament building, in which 14-people were killed, including the five attackers. India blames two Pakistan-based militant groups for the attack.

General Musharraf has condemned terrorism and vowed to crack down on extremist groups in Pakistan. In recent days, his government has rounded up scores of Islamic militants, including leaders of the groups India blames for the parliament attack. But New Delhi is demanding more concrete action, including Pakistan's surrender of 20 alleged terrorists, as a condition of easing the current stand-off.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who will visit the two countries next week, has been urging them to exercise restraint. He told reporters in Washington Friday he hoped General Musharraf's speech would offer a basis for the two countries to de-escalate the military standoff and start a dialogue.

Pakistani officials say General Musharraf's speech is expected to follow up on measures announced last year to curb sectarian violence and Islamic militancy in the country.

Analysts say a lot will depend on how India receives the Pakistani leader's speech.

Talat Hussain, who writes on India-Pakistan relations for local media, says "it is also expected that General Musharraf will continue on the same path of trying to transform certain sections of Pakistani society with fundamentalist leaning towards a more moderate end of life. It is not so much what (General) Musharraf will say, however, it is how India will read his measures that will determine if the situation on the borders between the two countries will change or not."

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed region of Kashmir. Islamabad denies the charge, and says it only offers moral support to what it calls a "freedom struggle" in Kashmir.