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Hard-Line Islamic Groups Gain

August 23, 1998

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani Habib ur Rehman went to neighboring Afghanistan to live under what he calls an ``exemplary Islamic government.″

Sunday, he was back in his homeland for treatment of wounds received in the U.S. attack on a suspected terrorist training complex in eastern Afghanistan, and he appeared even more committed to extremist Islam.

The attack has rallied hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan. They are a tiny minority in the otherwise moderate Muslim country, but they also are gaining strength from the like-minded Taliban who control most of Afghanistan.

Many Pakistanis, even those not allied with any of the fundamentalist groups, were angered at the U.S. attack on a fellow Muslim neighbor. The attack has prompted daily anti-American protests around Pakistan and could impel more Pakistanis down the extremist path taken by Rehman.

On Thursday, U.S. missile strikes hit targets in Afghanistan and Sudan allegedly connected with Osama bin Laden, an anti-American Saudi dissident accused of sponsoring terrorist attacks around the world. Clinton ordered the strikes on evidence that bin Laden was connected to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Rehman denied he had been receiving military training at the camp, though others there acknowledged it was a school for armed Islamic militants. Bin Laden, treated as an honored guest by the Taliban, has been reported unharmed.

``Thank God bin Laden is safe,″ Rehman said. ``The Taliban government is an exemplary Islamic government. That’s why I went there, to live under them and see how they organize things.″

The Pakistani border city of Peshawar is a meeting point for Afghans and Pakistanis. It has seen the largest and most violent anti-American protests in the wake of the U.S. missile attacks.

Muslim schools in and around Peshawar run by conservative Pakistani groups were the breeding ground for the Taliban militia that has swept across Afghanistan since 1994.

Under the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, girls are barred from school, most women are confined to their homes, and music, movies and television are banned.

In the northern city of Saidu Sharif, several hard-line groups met to call for a ``jihad,″ or holy war, against the United States.

The Taliban ``have brought peace to Afghanistan. They are determined to enforce sharia (Islamic) law on Afghanistan,″ said Mohammed Ibrahim, head of the Peshawar office of Jamaat-i-Islami, a small but growing political party in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, years of economic mismanagement and corruption have shaken faith in politics, making the Islamic parties’ promises of order attractive. Ibrahim said he was inspired by the Taliban’s success in Afghanistan.

``Our goal is the establishment of an Islamic state in Pakistan,″ said Ibrahim. He praised the Taliban for instituting measures like cutting off the hands of thieves, but said they should allow girls to be educated.

``During the last three-four years, I’ve seen a number of religious schools popping up in Peshawar,″ said Mohammed Tahir, one of the city’s shopkeepers. ``The entire culture of Peshawar is changing. Our women are now frightened to go out without a burqa (head-to-toe veil). Our society is a conservative society, but it hadn’t been like this before.″

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