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PAKISTAN
Behind the crisis facing Musharraf

By Ganesh Lal | June 11, 2004 | Page 8

THE KILLING of Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, a prominent Sunni Muslim leader in Pakistan, sparked off massive rioting in the streets of the capital of Karachi last week. The day after Shamzai's murder, a bomb went off at a Shiite mosque in Karachi, killing at least 16 people.

Shamzai's supporters attacked banks and police stations as the Pakistani government deployed 15,000 paramilitary forces to try to restore order. The riots are the latest crisis to face the Pakistani government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

In December of last year, Musharraf narrowly escaped two attempts on his life in as many weeks. Initially, he blamed al-Qaeda for the assassination attempts, but in recent weeks, he suggested that opponents in his own military were responsible.

Some three weeks ago, a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a Shiite mosque, and more recently, two car bombs were set off near the home of the U.S. consul. These signs of growing instability in Pakistan aren't good news for the Bush administration, which has courted the Pakistani dictator as one of its key allies in the "war on terrorism."

Under pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military launched a massive operation involving 70,000 troops along its border with Afghanistan in February and March of this year. The objective was to flush out al-Qaeda fighters and crack down on opponents of the U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. But after a flurry of rumors that Osama bin Laden had been captured, the operation ended with little accomplished.

Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war and occupation of Afghanistan has led to fierce opposition from Islamic fundamentalist organizations. In June 2002, one such organization, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) won provincial elections in the tribal-dominated areas bordering Afghanistan.

While sections of the Pakistani military would like to see stronger links with the U.S., the Islamist groups also have considerable clout within the military. Musharraf's response to growing tensions--both inside and outside the military--has been to further tighten his grip, in the hopes that more dictatorial measures and U.S. backing will keep him in power.

Musharraf recently pushed through a law calling for a National Security Council (NSC), which would legitimize Musharraf's dictatorship and give him the power to dissolve the parliament. Soon after, the Bush administration offered a $3 billion aid package to help prop up Musharraf.

So much for standing for "democracy." Washington doesn't care how many crimes the Musharraf regime commits--as long as it helps to defend U.S. interests.

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