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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 22:35 GMT
Musharraf urges end to jihad culture
By Zaffar Abbas
BBC correspondent in Islamabad

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf gestures before his address to joint session of Parliament
Musharraf says people around the world see Pakistan as intolerant

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has warned religious and political parties against promoting the culture of jihad, or holy war.

He said foreign nationals would not be allowed to use Pakistani territory to carry out militant activities in the region.

Speaking at a conference of several hundred clerics and religious scholars in Islamabad, the president said only by eliminating religious extremism can the growing perception about Pakistan being an intolerant society be changed.

Pakistan has arrested more than 500 al-Qaeda suspects who fled Afghanistan in the wake of US-led attacks that ousted the hardline Taleban regime in late 2001.

The president's hard-hitting and candid remarks about militancy and Islamic extremism in front of so many clerics left little doubt that the Pakistani military leader means business.

Intolerant society

His real targets were the relatively small number of militant groups that had been involved in sectarian violence within the country and were encouraging trouble in nearby countries like Afghanistan.

President Musharraf said a handful of extremists have taken the entire country hostage and were directly responsible for the growing perception in the world about Pakistan being an intolerant society.

Paksiatani demonstrator
The president says the fight against extremism is his biggest challenge

They had been targeting religious minorities in the country, he said, and were spreading the culture of jihad in neighbouring states.

President Musharraf said there was no room for jihadi culture in the country and no individual or political party would be allowed to preach violence in the name of religion.

He said the tribesmen in the country's border region with Afghanistan have been warned against giving shelter to foreign militants and the armed forces have been instructed to take strict action against those using Pakistani territory to create trouble in neighbouring countries.

President Musharraf said even though Pakistan regards the ongoing insurgency in Indian administered Kashmir as a freedom struggle, it would like to resolve the outstanding dispute with India through the recently started peace process.

He described the elimination of extremism from the country as his biggest challenge and asked the religious scholars to support him in his mission to create a culture of tolerance in Pakistan.

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