Beliefnet
MUNARA, Pakistan, Jan. 16 (AP) - A group led by retired army officers is threatening to establish its own Islamic state within Pakistan unless the nation's military government introduces Islamic rule within weeks.

The call for an Islamic system in the mostly Muslim nation comes from Akram Awan, who says 300,000 people have sworn allegiance to Tanzeem-ul-Ikhwan, the organization he leads from a mosque 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Islamabad.

``We believe very deeply in Islam and in the need for an Islamic system in Pakistan. This is our jihad,'' or holy war, Awan told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday at the mosque in Munara.

Unlike other religious groups in Pakistan, Tanzeem-ul-Ikhwan is made up largely of former members of the army, which seized control of the country in a bloodless coup in October 1999.

At a public meeting of his followers last week, Awan said the group will enforce its version of Islam in an area he is threatening to chalk out if Pakistan is not made an Islamic state by March 7.

Awan said Tuesday that the military government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf will be unable to prevent the move.

``They know it's not an easy thing to stop me. We are the army,'' Awan said.

``It is a fact that those in the army are our children, our grandchildren, our nephews.''

Asked for comment, the office of Pakistan's religious affairs minister, Mahmood Qazi, said Qazi met with Awan last week after he delivered the ultimatum and told him the government wants to move toward Islamic rule.

There are signs the military government is already doing so. For example, the army announced this month that it would outlaw interest payments charged by banks and lending institutions as of July 1 in keeping with Islamic teachings.

In a show of power in December, tens of thousands of men gathered outside Awan's headquarters during the holy month of Ramadan, living in tents and preparing to march on the capital. They were to be armed only with prayer beads and copies of the Quran.

Awan called off the march at the last minute after a meeting with Moinuddin Haider, Pakistan's interior minister and a retired general, who he said pledged to move Pakistan toward Islamic rule.

``They promised us then that there would be an Islamic system in Pakistan,'' Awan said. ``We won't compromise and we won't play politics. They have to deliver on their promise.''

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