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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 15:19 GMT
Pakistan's 'war on extremism' stalled
Eid congregation in Karachi
A devout society has produced many religious zealots
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Owen Bennett-Jones
BBC correspondent in Islamabad
More than 25 people have been killed in sectarian attacks in Pakistan over the last three weeks.

As well as the five Christians who died in the grenade attack on a church in Islamabad on Sunday, Shia and Sunni Muslims have been gunned down in a series of targeted killings.

Sunni Muslim scholar Ataur Rahman's body in a Lahore hospital after he was shot on Tuesday
Sectarian clashes are continuing across Pakistan

It is a reminder that General Pervez Musharraf's campaign against religious extremists has, so far, made little impact inside Pakistan.

And with the traditionally tense, Muslim holy festival of Muharram already underway, the authorities fear the security situation could become even worse in the coming days.

Impressive beginning

In January General Musharraf gave a landmark speech in which he declared that Islamic militants faced their "day of reckoning".

He went on to order the arrest of hundreds of religious activists many of whom have still not been released.

General Musharraf is sincere and has stated his agenda, but he seems unable to implement that agenda

Iqbal Haider, politician

The speech was a reflection of just how much President Musharraf has been emboldened by the failure of Pakistan's religious parties to mount a significant challenge to his support for Washington's war on terrorism.

But it remains to be seen whether he can translate his ideas into a genuine transformation of Pakistani society.

And in the meantime, the sectarian killers are still at large.

Tolerant vision

Ever since 11 September the West has accepted that the military regime faces a huge challenge and has offered it considerable support.

Muslim activists in the streets of Quetta, in western Pakistan
Campaigns abroad increase militancy at home

Before 11 September, General Musharraf was under constant international pressure to restore democracy.

His decision to back Washington transformed his political situation and resulted in immediate economic benefits such as the lifting of sanctions.

In the six months since the attacks on the World Trade Centre, General Musharraf has become increasingly confident in outlining his moderate, tolerant vision of Islam.

For 30 years no Pakistani leader has dared to speak out against the religious parties in the way General Musharraf has done.

At Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University, students have welcomed the General's approach.

"It is the start of creating a secular state in Pakistan and that's good," said one.

"Muslims are always blamed for everything," said another student. "What the General says is right."

But many wonder whether General Musharraf will be able to achieve his objectives.

Keeping promises

The recent sectarian killings are just one indication that his government is not implementing its policies.

President Musharraf has, for example, also said that foreign students without proper accreditation will be expelled form Pakistan's Islamic seminaries or madrassahs.

So far none have been forced to leave.

Critics point out that, in the past too, the Pakistani leader has failed to live up to his promises.

Shortly after taking power he vowed to reform Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws but backed down in the face of opposition from the religious parties.

"General Musharraf is sincere and has stated his agenda," says Iqbal Haider from the Pakistan People's Party.

"But he seems unable to implement that agenda."

See also:

13 Mar 02 | South Asia
Karachi doctors on protest strike
12 Mar 02 | South Asia
Violence at Shia funeral in Pakistan
27 Feb 02 | South Asia
Killings challenge Musharraf's resolve
27 Feb 02 | South Asia
'Extremists' held after mosque attack
13 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan's militant Islamic groups
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan to regulate religious schools
31 Jan 02 | South Asia
Musharraf's prescription for progress
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