Pakistanis March Against Clerics Behind 'Talibanization'

Chanting "down with Talibanization," hundreds of human rights activists marched through Pakistani cities Thursday, urging the government to rein in clerics who have launched an anti-vice campaign in the capital.

About 500 activists gathered for a rally in the eastern city of Lahore to condemn the vigilante campaign. "We reject Talibanization, we reject Mullah-ism," Asma Jehangir, a prominent Pakistani rights activist, told the rally.

Similar rallies drew about 150 activists in Islamabad and Karachi and 70 in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Earlier this year, burqa-wearing female students at a seminary in Islamabad occupied a municipal library to protest the demolition of illegally built mosques. The students later kidnapped an alleged brothel owner and held her for two days.

The students are calling also for video shop owners to close down their allegedly "un-Islamic" businesses. And a cleric from the Red Mosque adjoining the seminary has warned of suicide attacks if authorities try to interfere.

Jehangir said the students and clerics at the seminary and mosque had challenged the government. "We want to know why the government is silent about it," she said.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally who says he is guiding Pakistan along a path of "enlightened moderation," has condemned the students' attempt to impose Taliban-style social edicts in the capital.

However, police have taken no action against the hardline clerics, and officials say they are trying to negotiate a solution to avoid a violent confrontation.

Critics accuse the government of using — or even engineering — the standoff to present Musharraf as a bulwark against extremism and divert attention from a judicial crisis sparked by his suspension last month of the chief justice.