Pakistan president braces for turmoil


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- As the United States launched missile attacks against Afghanistan yesterday, the Muslim government here in neighboring Pakistan braced for unrest, deploying hundreds of troops around the capital.

President Pervez Musharraf, apparently trying to make sure of his army's loyalty, fired two generals sympathetic to Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.

He also closed all Muslim seminaries and banned public protests in the North-West Frontier Province, a region on the border with Afghanistan that is largely populated by ethnic Afghans, officials said.

Four Afghan helicopters that may have been carrying fleeing Taliban officials tried to land yesterday afternoon in the Pakistani border town of Parachinar but were ordered back by authorities, one Interior Ministry official said.

Musharraf removed Gen. Mahmood Ahmed as chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the military-civilian agency that had been coordinating Pakistan's relations with the Taliban since before the movement took power in 1996, a government security official said.

Gen. Aziz Khan, formerly responsible for Pakistani operations in Afghanistan and regarded as the most pro-Taliban officer among the senior ranks, was removed as commander of the Eastern Lahore region, the official added.

Pakistani police armed with tear gas, riot shields, helmets, wooden poles and machine guns took up positions in sensitive areas around this quiet, leafy city of 500,000 after missiles began striking targets in major Afghan cities. Police and soldiers were deployed in other major cities in Pakistan as well.

Though the influential Afghan Defense Council, based in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, issued a call for holy war, no violence was reported.

"It is the duty of every Muslim to support their brothers in this critical hour," council leader Riaz Durana said. "We will support the Taliban physically and morally against the aggression of America."

In downtown Peshawar, near the Afghan border, knots of angry men gathered, shouting, "Osama! Osama!" and "America is a terrorist."

Streets were quiet in Quetta, a city of 1.2 million people -- including a large Afghan refugee population -- located about 80 miles from the Afghanistan border.

Security, however, was tightened in the center of the city near the Serena Hotel, where many foreign journalists are staying. Armed security guards locked the front gates, surrounded the perimeter of the hotel and blocked guests trying to leave the compound, asserting that the city might not be safe.

Many of Quetta's refugees have strong Taliban sympathies, and the city is also home to many Islamic religious schools, called madrassas. Their graduates formed the nucleus of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

In the weeks before the bombings, many religious students threatened to take up arms against the United States if it attacked Afghanistan.

The Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, accused Washington of launching a terrorist attack on Afghanistan.

"These brutal attacks are as horrendous as terrorist acts anywhere else in the world," he said. "America will never achieve its political goal by launching horrendous attacks on the Muslim people of Afghanistan. The Afghan nation will rise against the new colonialists."

In an effort to prevent anti- American demonstrations, Pakistan detained an outspoken Muslim cleric for most of the day.

Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman, head of the Party of Islamic Clerics (JUI), was confined to his home in a town 120 miles south of Peshawar.

His party, which represents a very small percentage of Pakistanis, is a key supporter of the Taliban. The JUI built many of the madrassas that educated Taliban leaders and soldiers in Pakistan.

About 1,000 demonstrated in Peshawar yesterday afternoon, demanding his release. The protest, however, drew fewer people than past demonstrations have attracted. About 800 students held a peaceful demonstration at Peshawar University last night, saying they planned another protest today.

The Taliban have many sympathizers in Peshawar, where, as in other cities across Pakistan, soldiers were patrolling the streets. Riot police with shields guarded the U.S. consulate.

In Lahore, hundreds of Islamic clerics and students studying in pro-Taliban religious institutions staged demonstrations condemning the United States.

Although PTV, Pakistan's national television network, carried news of the attack against Afghanistan's Taliban regime, it was too early to gauge the general public reaction.

"We are ready," said Mohammed Haroon, assistant sub-inspector at the Aabpara district police station in Islamabad, as a group of about 30 police waited to board a truck beneath street lamps in the parking lot outside.

At least 150 riot police were deployed in the city's Aabpara district, which is home to the Red Mosque, a fundamentalist Islamic place of worship that has been at the heart of recent anti-American protests.

The government also bolstered security around the U.S. Embassy, where police and troops armed with shotguns and machine guns manned concrete barricades into the morning.

Musharraf is scheduled to address the nation at 10 o'clock this morning Pakistan time (1 a.m. EST).

On Saturday, Pakistan's Department of Defense further bolstered the president's political and military might by giving him an indefinite extension of his term as chief of army staff.

Musharraf, who oversees a military regime here, has provided the United States with over-flight privileges and promised both logistical support and sharing of intelligence in the current campaign.

United Nations aid officials have been preparing for an expected influx of 1 million Afghan refugees fleeing into Pakistan, part of up to 7.5 million Afghans expected to be in need of humanitarian aid because of the crisis.

Many of the refugees fleeing the attacks may pour into the Quetta region, home to about 500,000 refugees already. U.N. officials have been organizing campsites and stocking up on tents, food and other supplies to accommodate the refugees.

Sun foreign staff writer John Murphy and wire services contributed to this article.

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