ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – In a diplomatic crackdown on the Taliban, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said Thursday it ordered the fundamentalist militia to close its consulate in the port city of Karachi.
Taliban diplomats also were told not to take part in nationwide protests by hard-line Islamic groups scheduled for Friday in Karachi, a center of Islamic fundamentalist activity, and protest organizers were warned against inciting violence.
Despite the moves, Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Thursday that his military government had "no intention" of breaking diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime.
Pakistan is the only country to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates severed their ties after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The ties with the Taliban provide "a useful diplomatic window," Musharraf said in Paris, where he met with French President Jacques Chirac to discuss the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.
The Taliban embassy in Islamabad and consulates in Quetta and Peshawar remain open, said Aziz Ahmad Khan, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. Musharraf said there was little need for a Taliban consulate in the southeastern city of Karachi.
"Having a Taliban consulate in Karachi is purposeless and it was having some negatives," Musharraf said. He noted that the Taliban consulate in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, was useful because of Afghan refugees in the area.
Staff in the Karachi consulate were asked to return to Afghanistan immediately, Khan said. The Taliban were informed of the order Tuesday, Pakistani officials said.
Taliban Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef told The Associated Press that the Pakistanis ordered operations ceased at the consulate by the end of the week.
Zaeef was also told to stop his regular news conferences, which he has used to condemn the United States and its coalition partners for the bombing campaign in Afghanistan. Broadcast live by CNN, the news conferences had made Zaeef the most visible Taliban spokesman.
Pakistan supports the U.S. campaign, launched Oct. 7 after the ruling Taliban refused to hand over terror suspect Osama bin Laden, wanted in connection with the September attacks.
Pakistan made the moves ahead of a nationwide strike called by the Afghan Defense Council, an alliance of 35 Islamic groups, to protest the government's support of the bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
Officials said the government has told Zaeef to make sure Afghan diplomatic staff in Pakistan do not take part in the rallies. Scores of Islamic activists and leaders also have been put under house arrest or travel restrictions.
Haider warned hard-line Islamic groups Thursday against inciting violence. "We can't tolerate sedition. We can't encourage anarchy," he said.
The government also plans to stop funding and to monitor madrassas, or religious schools, that promote violence and extremism, Haider told The Associated Press.
Many senior Taliban leaders were educated at Pakistani madrassas during the 1980s, when Soviet forces occupied Afghanistan. There are now more than 700,000 students at Pakistan's 7,000 to 8,000 madrassas.
In recent months, madrassa students in Karachi, Pakistan's main commercial center and its largest city, have rioted several times to protest support of the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.