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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 16:24 GMT
Rural backing for Pakistan reform
Mehlu village children
Often Mehlu children do not have a teacher
Owen Bennett Jones

In the Pakistani village of Mehlu, 40 kilometres west of Islamabad, the men pass their days drinking tea and gossiping.

Apart form watching the crops grow there is nothing else to do.

Mullah Siraj ul Haq
Mullah Siraj ul Haq thinks the killings will end
When it comes to politics the villagers seem agreed - they say they were pleased by General Musharraf's recent speech in which he said he would confront Pakistan's religious extremists.

Many in Pakistan's Westernised elite have already welcomed the general's remarks.

But the majority of Pakistanis live in the countryside.

'Very positive'

If the reaction of the villagers in Mehlu is anything to go by, then rural communities also believe that religious extremists have been given too much leeway.

There are no fanatics here

Stone mason Allah Rakha

"Its very positive," said Siraj ul Haq, one of the three mullahs in the village.

"Last year 1,172 people died in sectarian violence. Now I don't think there will be any more killings."

The Mullah says that, far form worrying about religious fanaticism, his main problem is getting enough people to attend his mosque to say their prayers five times a day.

"On Fridays we have over 300 people," he said, "but on other days only 30 or 40 turn up."

No desks

Nearby his mosque lies the village school.

Each morning more than 100 children sit in the open air ready for their classes.

They have no chairs or desks and often they do not even have a teacher.

Mehlu villager
Extremism is that last of the villagers' worries

"We keep asking the teacher to come to school on time but often he doesn't arrive," said Mohammed Aslam, a farmer who has a 12-year-old boy in the school.

"What will be the future of our children?"

The villagers say the two most pressing issues for them are getting a reliable teacher for the school and persuading he government to build a road into the village.

Religious extremism is the least of their worries. "There are no fanatics here," says stone mason Allah Rakha.

"But whatever Musharraf has done it is good."

See also:

12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan to regulate religious schools
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Musharraf's gamble
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Musharraf speech highlights
04 Jan 02 | Americas
Powell urges Pakistan to do more
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