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Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 05:26 GMT 06:26 UK
Musharraf condemns Islamic militants
General Pervez Musharraf (left) with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Muhammad Aziz Khan
The president (left) said recent attacks were shameful
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has marked the 55th anniversary of independence from Britain with a stinging condemnation of Islamic militants in the country.

General Musharraf accused what he called an insignificant minority of holding Pakistan to ransom with their misconceived view of Islam.


My dear countrymen, your armed forces are standing guard on the country's borders

President Musharraf on Kashmir
He said a string of attacks on foreigners and Christians this year were both despicable and shameful and the death of innocent people served only to tarnish the image of Pakistan.

Ahead of the speech, police in Pakistan said they had arrested at least 16 suspected members of militant groups in a series of raids in Punjab province.

A senior police official said those detained in the two-day operation included members of the outlawed militant groups, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Both groups are suspected of involvement in last week's attacks on a Christian hospital in the northern town of Taxila and a Christian school in the town of Murree, which left 10 people dead.

Aftermath of Murree attack
Six died in the Murree attack

Correspondents say the attacks have raised fears of a new wave of militancy aimed at Christian and Western targets.

The militant groups have been angered by Pakistan's support for the American-led war on terrorism, following the 11 September attacks on the United States.

In his speech - given entirely in English - General Musharraf said Pakistan's authorities had a long-term strategy in place to deal with militant groups, many of which, he said had already been broken up.

Kashmir elections

Security at the convention centre in Islamabad where General Musharraf made his address to the nation was extremely tight.

The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad says the recent upsurge in violence and its effect on international confidence will be one of the main challenges for the president in the months ahead.

Indian Central Reserve Police officer near Srinagar
One million troops are still massed on Kashmir's disputed border
The Pakistani leader also used the speech to dismiss planned elections in Indian-administered Kashmir next month as a farce which denied the people of the disputed region a real choice.

"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," General Musharraf said.

"The government of India has organised 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," he added.

He also pledged military support for the people of Kashmir saying "my dear countrymen, your armed forces are standing guard on the country's borders".

"Let life and business continue as usual with the confidence that your valiant forces have the Jazba-e-Eman [spirit of faith] not only to defend every inch of the motherland but to carry the fight across the border," he added.

An Indian spokesman described the remarks as "provocative" and aimed at raising tension in the region.

Amid continuing tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir territory the two nuclear powers have amassed more than one million troops on the border.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Susannah Price
"The speech appeared more of a policy statement than a ceremonial address"
Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf
"The attacks on Christians are the most shameful examples of terrorism"
Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

09 Aug 02 | South Asia
09 Aug 02 | South Asia
05 Aug 02 | South Asia
27 Jun 02 | South Asia
14 Aug 02 | South Asia
14 Aug 02 | Media reports
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