Pakistan orders Taliban to close Karachi consulate

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A day after ordering the Taliban’s ambassador to muzzle his criticism of the United States, Pakistan’s government Thursday directed Afghanistan’s ruling militia to close its consulate in the port city of Karachi.

A U.S. official also suggested that Pakistan order the Taliban to close its consulates in the border cities of Peshawar and Quetta, but Pakistani officials could not be reached for comment.

The closures are part of a widening clampdown by the Pakistani government on opposition to the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan.

Authorities Thursday arrested a second prominent Islamic leader, Fazlur Rehman, head of a faction of the Jamiat Ulema Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clerics). Rehman was taken from his home in Peshawar, where he had been under house arrest for two weeks, to a government "rest house." His arrest came a day after that of Qazi Hussein Ahmed, leader of Pakistan’s largest Islamic group, Jamaat-i-Islami (the Islamic Assembly). The government also said it plans to stop funding and increase its oversight of thousands of religious schools called madrassas, where many Taliban leaders were educated. The madrassas have long been criticized for promoting the rigid version of Islam adopted by the Taliban and for recruiting thousands of young Muslims to fight with the movement and other militant Islamic causes.

Pakistani Interior Minister Moin Haider warned pro-Taliban groups against inciting violence during nationwide protests planned for today. "We can’t tolerate sedition," he said. "We can’t encourage anarchy."

Aside from arresting the country’s two top Islamic leaders, the government has tried to undermine the strike by reinstating a holiday Friday for its national poet, Muhammad Iqbal. Banks, schools and government offices have been ordered to close. The poet’s annual remembrance had been ignored by the military government for the past two years.

Past calls by Islamic groups for mass protests have fizzled and pro-Taliban demonstrations have dwindled in recent weeks, drawing only several thousand protesters last Friday.

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