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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 07:35 GMT
US hails Musharraf's 'firm stand'
Pakistanis watch Musharraf's address to the nation
Musharraf pledged dialogue on Kashmir
The United States has led Western support for a major speech by the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, aimed at defusing tensions with India and curbing Islamic extremism within Pakistan.

The White House said President George Bush welcomed what he saw as the Pakistani leader's firm decision to stand against terrorism and extremism.


The United States welcomes President Musharraf's explicit statements against terrorism and particularly notes his pledge that Pakistan will not tolerate terrorism under any pretext

Colin Powell
And the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who is about to visit South Asia, said the speech provided the basis for resolving tensions with India through diplomatic means.

General Musharraf used the televised address to the nation to announce a series of measures to control militants, including a ban on five groups - among them two Kashmiri separatist organisations - blamed by India for last month's attack on the Indian parliament.

Crackdown

The Pakistan authorities have started enforcing the ban, sealing offices of the outlawed organisations in Karachi and Lahore.

Police have arrested dozens more activists belonging to the groups. Just before Mr Musharraf's speech on Saturday at least 250 Islamic militants and radical sympathisers were detained.

New measures
Two Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups banned
Two hardline religious groups banned
Mosques banned from making political messages
Religious schools to be registered

The Indian Government is expected to comment on Mr Musharraf's speech on Sunday.

But a senior member of India's governing BJP, K.R. Malkhani, told the BBC that Pakistan had still not taken effective enough measures to combat extremism.

The BBC's Jill McGivering in Delhi says the mood of scepticism in India will be hard to counter as tension between the two nuclear rivals remains high.

Spain, which currently holds the European Union presidency, also welcomed Mr Musharraf's speech.

And United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted his emphasis on tolerance, the rule of law, and the need to fight terrorism and extremism.

'Explicit statements'

BBC Washington correspondent Richard Lister says the US has gone out of its way to praise General Musharraf.

Violence and terrorism has been going on for years and we are weary and sick of this Kalashnikov culture

General Musharraf

US officials said the speech marked a break with the past over Kashmir and gave both Pakistan and India the chance to reduce tensions.

"The United States ... welcomes President Musharraf's explicit statements against terrorism and particularly notes his pledge that Pakistan will not tolerate terrorism under any pretext," Mr Powell said.

Madrassah in Lahore
Musharraf said religious schools should be reformed
Washington has indicated it will be watching closely to see that Mr Musharraf's pledges are put into action, but for his part the Pakistani leader has made clear that he wants the United States to intervene more directly in the dispute over Kashmir.

Our correspondent says Washington has been reluctant to do that so long as India is opposed to such intervention, but Mr Powell may find himself under renewed pressure now that Mr Musharraf has made the commitments that America has asked of him.

Militant ban

Mr Musharraf announced that two groups India blames for an attack on its parliament last month, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad - are now banned.

However, he ruled out handing over to India Pakistani nationals on a list of militants drawn up by Delhi, a key Indian demand for an end to the current military crisis in the region.

Mr Musharraf addressed head on the dispute with India over the territory of Kashmir - the cause of two wars between the nuclear neighbours.

"We will never budge from our principled position on Kashmir. Kashmir has to be resolved through dialogue in accordance with the wishes of the people of Pakistan and in accordance with the UN resolutions," he said.

Mr Musharraf also stressed the need for continued reform of Pakistan's religious schools or madrassahs which are perceived to have encouraged militancy and helped the development of the Taleban.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Frances Harrison
"An official reaction has yet to come from Delhi"
President Musharraf
"Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used for any terrorist activity"
The BBC's Adam Mynott
"People within the Indian heirachy will welcome some things President Musharraf said"
See also:

12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan to regulate religious schools
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Musharraf's gamble
12 Jan 02 | UK Politics
UK praises 'courageous' Musharraf
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Musharraf speech highlights
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
India cautious on Musharraf
04 Jan 02 | Americas
Powell urges Pakistan to do more
07 Jan 02 | South Asia
War moves spread fear on border
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