Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to intensify efforts to crush Islamic extremism, blamed for a series of recent attacks on Western and Christian targets in the country. In a speech marking the 55th anniversary of Pakistan, the military leader also urged neighboring India to begin talks to resolve the long-running dispute over Kashmir.
President Musharraf condemned attacks against foreigners and Christians as the most shameful and despicable examples of terrorism. He says those responsible for such acts have no link with Islam.
"An insignificant minority has held the entire nation hostage to their misconceived views of Islam and fanatical acts of terrorism," he said. " My Pakistani brothers and sisters, we all have to put in a joint effort to root out those who are maligning our religion and tarnishing the image of Pakistan, while imagining themselves to be ultra-Islamic."
President Musharraf says he has put in place a number of counter-terrorism steps and has intensified security throughout Pakistan. He claims that almost all militants involved in last week's attacks on a missionary school and a Christian hospital near the Pakistani capital have been arrested or killed.
"I am confident we will, Inshallah [God willing] break the back of all these criminals and the organizations supporting them. I appeal to all ulemas [religious scholars], religious-political parties and organizations to come forward actively to protect Islam from such distortion and abuse," the president said.
Authorities blame Islamic extremists for the recent wave of violence in the country. These forces are opposed to Pakistan's support of the American-led war on terrorism. President Musharraf says his country stands firmly committed to root out the menace of terrorism.
In his speech, the Pakistani leader again urged neighboring India to begin dialogue to settle the long-running dispute over the divided region, Kashmir. President Musharraf criticized New Delhi's plans to hold elections in Indian Kashmir, next month.
"The announcement by India to hold elections in Indian-occupied Kashmir is yet another effort to give a mask of legitimacy to India's illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir," Mr. Musharraf said. " The government of India has organized such farcical elections in the past, as well. These so-called elections have invariably been rigged and have always been boycotted by the Kashmiri people."
New Delhi has said peaceful elections in Indian-administered Kashmir will be a test of Pakistan's sincerity for a dialogue with India. But, President Musharraf calls that a self-serving argument.
"Pakistan cannot accept any responsibility for developments inside Indian-occupied Kashmir. Nor can India try to shift the onus of the failure of elections to Pakistan. The Kashmiri struggle is indigenous," he said.
India accuses Pakistan of sending Islamic militants into Kashmir to stage attacks against official targets and fuel an on-going Muslim insurgency in the region. Pakistani leaders deny the charge.
Hostilities over control of the divided territory has resulted two wars between India and Pakistan. It remains the major source of tensions in the region.