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Some Pakistanis Vow To Aid Taliban

A hardline Muslim group will send thousands of Pakistanis to fight against the U.S.-led forces attacking Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, their leader said on Thursday.

Sufi Mohammad, head of Tehrik Nifaze Shariat Mohammadi, a movement that wants to impose Islamic law, said that thousands of armed tribal Muslims had gathered at the party office, willing to go into Afghanistan in support of the Taliban.

"Many people have gathered, thousands of people. It is very difficult for us to organize it," said Mohammad, speaking from the village of Maidan, located in the rugged lands between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Most of the Pashtun tribesmen in the area share a common culture and close links with those on the Afghan side of the border.

Pakistan's Interior Minister, Moinuddin Haider, said in an interview Thursday that the government would arrest any armed person caught trying to cross into Afghanistan. But they concede the huge border, which stretches more than 1,500 miles could not be monitored.

"Whenever they pass with arms in settled areas, they will be stopped or arrested. The Pakistan-Afghanistan border is an international border," Haider said. "If they go without a passport we will arrest them there, but if a few go unnoticed then we cannot stop them."

The group has been trying to impose strict Islamic law in the border area and has had violent confrontations with the government. It seemed undeterred by news that a U.S. strike on Kabul early on Tuesday had killed at least 20 Pakistani militants of the Harakatul Mujahideen. Ustad Farooq, the group's leader, was buried Thursday as 3,000 supporters looked on. Farooq's supporters crowded the streets, faces somber, shouldering his casket draped with Pakistan's flag to burial. Some shook fists and shouted. Pakistani rangers with hard hats and automatic weapons kept watch.

Haider said the call for war can only be made by the ruler of an Islamic country and described Mohammad's call as an attempt to undermine the government.

"Jihad can only be announced by amir-e-waqt (ruler)," Haider said. "We appreciate their spirit. The call for jihad can only be given by the ruler."

Mohammad said thousands of armed tribals had gathered at his call, ready to go to Afghanistan at once, but he would organize their departure in small groups.

President Pervez Musharraf's military government is under pressure from the Islamic parties to give up its support to the U.S.-led coalition but has been able to contain protests and demonstrations, even when they have turned violent.

Earlier in the week, massive security and forceful police action in a southern city helped avert mass demonstrations by Islamic militants near an air base being used to support U.S. personnel.

Militant leaders from the Jamaat-e-Islami religious party had called on followers to mass and march toward Shahbaz Air Base "at any cost." Police erected sandbag bunkers and road blockades in anticipation of unrest.

But asidfrom one disorderly midmorning demonstration and two smaller protests a bit later, police said little materialized in Jacobabad.

Two alleged members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network are being held in a Pakistani military prison on suspicion of planning terrorist activities at another airstrip used by American forces. Authorities named them as Karama Khamiz, who was carrying a Yemeni passport, and Abdullah Saeed Manesh, believed to be from Saudi Arabia.

Pakistani intelligence sources said the two were caught at Dalbandin airbase, inside the main security perimeter. It is thought they slipped in from Afghanistan, about fifty miles away.

The possibility that bin Laden's network may be turning its attention to facilities used by American forces here is another example of the increasing pressures on both Pakistan and the U.S. for a quick end to the bombing.

More than 100 people were arrested in the first demonstration when about 200 militant Muslims appeared inside the city, chanting anti-government slogans. They made no immediate move toward the base three miles away.

Police rushed them with batons, ordering them to disperse. Two more small groups of demonstrators - one of 25 people, the other of about 15 - were arrested shortly afterward when they started to march toward the base. Authorities said they had been hiding in houses and were emerging sporadically.

Most shops were closed and many streets were deserted except for police, army and paramilitary troops.

The Pakistani protesters want to expel U.S. personnel supporting the U.S.-led military campaign designed to root out terrorist installations in Afghanistan belonging to bin Laden, top suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.

Pakistani President Musharraf has insisted for weeks that most of Pakistan is behind him, and protests — while loud and sometimes violent — have been scattered and have included only a sliver of Pakistan's population.

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