Karachi violence to cost Musharraf heavily

Karachi violence to cost Musharraf heavily: analysts

ISLAMABAD ( 2007-05-13 21:29:25 ) :
President Pervez Musharraf’s grip on power has been dangerously weakened by the involvement of his political allies in violence that killed dozens of people, analysts said Sunday.

Musharraf faces a major challenge to put the lid back on the opposition movement that has formed around the country’s suspended chief justice.

More than 36 people, most of them opposition workers, have died in ongoing clashes between pro-government and pro-judge parties that have turned the streets of Karachi into a battleground.

“I think his (Musharraf’s) power is now diminishing rapidly. There is no doubt about it,” retired Pakistani army general and political analyst Talat Masood told AFP.

General Musharraf’s position has become increasingly tenuous as he seeks another five-year term as president-in-uniform before November 16 from the outgoing parliament, which is stacked with his supporters.

Opponents say the president, a key US ally in the “war on terror,” dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on March 9 to ensure a pliant judiciary in the event of any legal challenges to the manoeuvre.

After two months of protests involving lawyers and opposition parties, the crisis turned violent on Saturday in Karachi.

The main bloodshed was sparked when Musharraf’s local ally, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, prevented Chaudhry from addressing a bar association function in Karachi.

Musharraf blamed the judge and his supporters for the carnage, saying that they had politicised Chaudhry’s fate and stoked up tensions.

But Human Rights Watch accused police and the provincial government, which is run by the MQM, of being “silent spectators” to the breakdown in law and order and of deliberately “fomenting” trouble.

“It was a great blunder, a major mistake of horrendous proportions. It was a sure recipe for confrontation,” Masood said.

Masood said the current situation could lead to early elections, but Musharraf was unlikely to be able to retain his position as chief of the huge army, his main source of power.

“All actions subsequent to March 9 reflect a sense of insecurity in government ranks leading to a situation where elections could be held ahead of time,” Masood said.

Political commentator Najam Sethi said the violence in Karachi, an ethnic tinderbox wracked by political fighting in the 1990s, had set the scene for a national confrontation.

“The battle lines are now drawn. There is Musharraf and the ruling political party and the MQM on one side and the rest of Pakistan on the other. He is facing the worst period of his rule,” Sethi told AFP.

As Karachi was in flames, Musharraf was addressing a massive rally in Islamabad organised by his cronies to demonstrate public support for the military-led administration.

Musharraf has conveyed a message to the chief justice that “we will use the machinery of the state to stop you and you will not be allowed to reach out to people,” Sethi said.

“It is very depressing. We are more divided as a nation than we were in 1999 when he took over in a coup.”

A senior security official who worked in Sindh province during the late 1990s feared that the current spate of violence in Karachi could hurt the commercial hub and home of the Pakistani stock market as in the past.

“There was an uneasy calm in Karachi since the MQM government came into being. That calm has been broken,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The official said that it was distressing to see that law enforcement agencies did not intervene at all. “They looked to be part of the whole carnage,” he added.

Aaj TV


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