Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghan Policy Splits Pakistan Coalition AFGHAN: FALLOUT

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghan Policy Splits Pakistan Coalition AFGHAN: FALLOUT

Article excerpt

THE face-off in Kabul between moderate and radical mujahideen groups is increasing pressure on the ruling coalition in neighboring Pakistan, which has long maintained a high-profile role in the Afghan conflict as a conduit for guerrilla arms and aid.

Last week, the small but well-organized Jamaat-i-Islami (Islamic Society) broke with the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over the government's Afghan policy. The prime minister is backing the mujahideen government in Kabul, while Jamaat activists support fundamentalist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who refused to join the ruling coalition. Pakistan had long channeled much of its assistance through Mr. Hekmatyar.

Defecting Jamaat members also cite the Sharif government's neglect of Jamaat demands for the speedy introduction of Islamic sharia laws in Pakistan.

The move is unlikely to affect the government's position in the 217-member parliament, where it has a comfortable majority. But intensified confrontation between the two sides could instigate unrest outside the parliament, political observers say.

Young Muslim activists, who turned out in large numbers on the streets of Pakistan during the Gulf war to condemn the Western-backed coalition against Iraq, pose one of the most difficult challenges to the Sharif government, which backed the Western coalition.

"The mullahs have their street power," one leading political activist says on condition of anonymity. "If they decide to go all-out, problems during the Gulf war may come back to haunt us."

The Jamaat is considered to be strong in parts of Northwest Frontier Province which borders Afghanistan, Baluchistan in the west, and rural areas in heavily populated Punjab Province. …

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