Friday, May 11, 2007

15,000 Police Set For Pakistan Protest Powderkeg

By Cernig

It amazes me that the ongoing political turmoil in Pakistan isn't getting more - read any - attention in the US. Events which began with President Musharaff's attempt to rid himself of a turbulent Chief Justice are now boiling towards a possibly violent climax.
Government opponents hope to hold their biggest demonstration yet Saturday against Musharraf's decision to suspend the head of the Supreme Court two months ago, a move that has plunged Pakistan into deepening political turmoil.

The Mutahida Qami Movement, a pro-government party with a support base in Karachi, has announced it will hold a counter-rally less than a mile away. In the 1990s, scores of MQM activists were arrested for allegedly kidnapping dozens of their rivals and attacking security forces. Party activists are still heavily armed, but critics say they enjoy impunity as part of Musharraf's government.

``If something happens to the chief justice, or any of his supporters in Karachi or elsewhere, the government alone would be responsible for it,'' said Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for the main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party.

...Opposition groups have joined thousands of lawyers in demonstrations around the country over the past month to demand Chaudhry's reinstatement, sometimes skirmishing with police. Chaudhry, who was expected to address Saturday's demonstration, drew nearly 20,000 sympathizers at a protest last weekend in the eastern city of Lahore.

...About 15,000 police and paramilitary rangers will be deployed in Karachi, a city of 15 million people, said Ghulam Muhammed Mohtarem, home secretary of Sindh province. The security forces will be at the airport for Chaudhry's arrival, at the demonstration sites and along the routes to be used by the judge and protesters.

...The judicial crisis appears to have weakened Musharaf politically.

Opposition parties argue Musharraf would breach the constitution if he does not step down as army chief before staying on for another term. His position as head of the army, however, has been the main source of his power and of his utility to the U.S. in its campaign against terrorism.

Some Pakistanis fear that if the crisis turns violent, Musharaf could declare a state of emergency and postpone the elections.
Let's be clear about what is at stake here. Pakistan is a nuclear power of no mean ability and such turmoil should be enough to have everyone's radar twitching. It certainly has the Indians nervous, as they watch Pakistan's traditionally hostile military scale up their nuclear forces:
Pakistan is preparing its next-generation of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles for deployment, a Federation of American Scientists (FAS) report has claimed. According to the Dawn, India's nuclear build-up is motivating Islamabad to modernize its nuclear armory.

Authors of the FAS report estimate that Pakistan currently has 60 nuclear weapons, and add that in the last five-and-a- half-years, Islamabad has deployed two new nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, entered the final development stages of a potentially nuclear-capable cruise missile, started construction of a new plutonium production reactor, and is close to completing a second chemical separation facility.
Pakistan isn't a member of the NPT, has been accused of providing safe haven for the Taliban, al Qaida and other terrorists and has been the source of nuclear technology passed to other nations such as North Korea, Iran and Libya. Yet this isn't worth watching?

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