Anti-U.S. Bloc Takes Office in Pakistani Province Bordering Afghanistan

A large bloc of anti-American religious conservatives was sworn in Thursday in a Pakistani province where the United States is hunting for Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives.

The hardline Islamic legislators spent their first day in office trying to assemble a governing coalition with other minority parties in the southwestern Baluchistan provincial assembly.

The Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Forum, an alliance of hardline Islamic groups, won 18 seats in the 65-member assembly. The party of moderate Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, which won 22 seats, is holding separate negotiations with smaller parties.

The assembly of this vast, barren and sparsely populated province brings together tribal elders, ethnic Baluch and Pashtun nationalists and Islamic radicals.

The Islamic alliance made big gains in the Oct. 10 general elections after campaigning strongly against the United States and President Pervez Musharraf's support for the fight against terrorism.

In addition to a strong showing in Baluchistan, the coalition won control of North West Frontier province. Both areas border Afghanistan and are considered vital to the U.S. effort to track down Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives.

U.S. officials are concerned that the rise of the Islamic alliance will hamper those efforts.

As the assembly convened Thursday, representatives from the religious coalition offered prayers for Baluchistan-born Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani man executed earlier this month in the United States for murdering two CIA employees in 1993.

After his execution, Kasi's body was returned and buried in Quetta, his hometown and Baluchistan's capital. Thousands of supporters chanted slogans against the United States at his funeral.