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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
Pakistan warns of 'destruction'
Protest in Peshawar
The move to back the US has been met with protests
President Pervez Musharraf says Pakistan is facing its worst crisis for 30 years over its support for US action against Osama Bin Laden and his Taleban protectors.

We have to save ourselves from destruction

General Musharraf

In a televised address to the nation, he said the country was threatened with destruction, and had to save itself.

He also warned that, if Pakistan made the wrong decision now, it could adversely affect the Kashmir dispute with India.

US President George W Bush praised President Musharraf for taking a "bold position", while White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the speech was "an indication of the strong relationship between the US and Pakistan."

Islamabad has bowed to US pressure for assistance in military action against Afghanistan, following last week's suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which left thousands dead.

In his speech, General Musharraf acknowledged that many of his countrymen were bitterly opposed to his support for the US, but argued that the move did not go against the principles of Islam.

'Serious time'

Pakistan has been witnessing mounting protests by Islamic students and religious leaders against the move to support the US.

General Pervez Musharraf
General Musharraf tried to reach out to his critics

General Musharraf said: "Pakistan is passing through a very serious time... our decision will impact on our future."

"What we are doing is in accordance with Islam, truth and justice," he said.

General Musharraf confirmed that the US had asked Pakistan for "intelligence and information" as well as the use of Pakistan's airspace and "logistical support".

But the General insisted he had always stood by Afghanistan's Taleban rulers and pleaded on their behalf with world leaders.

Pakistan is one of only three nations that recognise the Taleban authorities in neighbouring Afghanistan, where Osama Bin Laden, the chief suspect in the recent attacks on the US, is living.

A Pakistani delegation has held talks with the Taleban inside Afghanistan and put pressure on them to hand over Mr Bin Laden.

A council of Afghanistan's most senior clerics will meet for a second day on Thursday to discuss whether to surrender Mr Bin Laden.

The council, or shura, ended a meeting on Wednesday without a decision, despite a warning from the Taleban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, that the US was bent on destroying them.

Taleban Education Minister, Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, told the Afghan Islamic Press agency that a final decision was expected by Thursday.

Growing protests

Before General Musharraf's address, hundreds of Islamic students had held a protest rally in the north-western city of Peshawar.

They waved placards with messages of support for Osama Bin Laden and Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, and said that if the US attacked Afghanistan, they would go there to fight a holy war.

On Tuesday, thousands of students from an Islamic seminary gathered near the American consulate in Karachi, shouting anti-US slogans.

Police were deployed to prevent them from approaching the consulate. It was the largest such demonstration in recent days.

Religious leaders in Pakistan have warned that such protests could turn violent if the US launches an attack on Afghanistan.

The BBC's Adam Brooks
reports from the Afghan border
The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Islamabad
"President Musharraf's speech was carefully timed to try to head off the growing opposition"
The BBC's Zubeida Malik
"The reaction in Pakistan has been mixed"
See also:

19 Sep 01 | Media reports
Text: Musharraf rallies Pakistan
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Karachi protest against US
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tough choice
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul checkpoints stem refugee exodus
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bomb blast in Pakistan
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Embassies act on Pakistan unrest
19 Sep 01 | Americas
FBI widens the net
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