Host Karin Wells - CBC RADIO - speaks with Ahmed Rashid. Mr Rashid is a best-selling journalist and author based in Lahore, Pakistan. This morning, he's in London
PAKISTAN (Duration: 00:18:15)
As if it wasn't tough enough already. Canada's 25 hundred soldiers in Afghanistan are not exactly having an easy time of it, trying to rid the country of the Taliban. And now the tough guy who George Bush and his anti-terrorism allies have been counting on to keep the Taliban under control, is having his own set of problems.
President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has been having a very bad week. Thousands of his opponents are marching in the streets. After eight years of iron rule, General Musharraf is in danger of losing his grip. Musharraf's popularity may be in decline on the streets of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. But he still has plenty of friends in Washington. How much longer that friendship will last, is hard to say.
Veiled warning on Musharraf rule
Pakistan's ex-top judge has addressed thousands of supporters at Islamabad's Supreme Court, making a veiled attack on President Pervez Musharraf.
Ex-Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said it was vital to maintain the separation of branches of political power.
His last planned address in the city of Karachi earlier in May was cancelled after his visit led to street violence which left at least 41 dead.
President Musharraf has faced a backlash over Mr Chaudhry's dismissal.
Though he did not refer to the president by name, Mr Chaudhry said it was wrong for too much power to be wielded by one figure. Mr Musharraf is not only president, but head of the armed forces.
'Go, Musharraf, go'
During the seminar, he told the audience: "The courts must be independent. Courts should remain free from the pressure of the executive.
"Abuse of power often occurs in a system of governance where there is centralisation of all power in one person or in one institution and that is dangerous."
Several thousand of Mr Chaudhry's supporters were with him, some chanting "Go, Musharraf, go". The former chief justice had been surrounded by supporters on the 5km journey from his home to the court, and took more than two hours to get there.
The BBC's Barbara Plett says many of those taking part carried torches as night had fallen, and that the atmosphere was festive and vibrant. There was little sign of police, she adds.
The procession was led by lawyers and opposition parties, but also included ordinary citizens angry over recent deaths in Karachi, our correspondent says.
Opposition parties had been planning a mass rally in Karachi on 12 May in support of Mr Chaudhry when violence broke out.
Mr Chaudhry was suspended by Gen Musharraf in March and denies claims he abused his office.
The president is accused of trying to stifle the independence of the judiciary in an election year, and protests over the judge have snowballed into a campaign against the government.
The speech to the Supreme Court Bar Association in Islamabad appeared to be an answer to the Karachi mayhem, a way of demonstrating that the opposition movement would not be intimidated, our correspondent says.
Observers have said Mr Chaudhry is offering an alternative to Pakistan's military rule, with an independent judiciary and a return to civilian government.
Nine hurt in Pakistan court blast
At least nine people have been wounded in a car bomb blast outside the high court in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar, police say.
One of the injured is reported to be in a serious condition.
The wounded have been taken to hospital. Police say it is not clear who planted the device.
A series of blasts have hit Peshawar over the past year. A fortnight ago, a powerful bomb blast in a hotel in the city killed at least 24 people.
Most of the injured were passers-by, the police said.
"It was a car bomb, we have started investigations," senior police officer Iftikhar Khan told AFP news agency.
Officials said explosives were attached to a car parked 30 metres from the court's main gate. The blast destroyed the vehicle and several others parked nearby.
Police officials said that although it was premature to comment on the target, the attack seemed to fit in with the general pattern of recent attacks by extremists.
But lawyers from the local bar association told the BBC that the attack was to scare them into abandoning their campaign in support of Pakistan's suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
President Musharraf suspended him on charges of abuse of power in March.
Mr Chaudhry denies the charges, and his supporters - including lawyers and political parties - have launched a nationwide campaign to have him restored.
A local bar association spokesman accused the Pakistani secret agencies of being behind the blast, but he also said the lawyers would not be cowed by such means.
Tensions over Afghan refugee move
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Karachi
The leader of a religious alliance in north-west Pakistan has threatened protests if more Afghan refugees are moved to his native Chitral district.
Member of parliament Abdul Akbar Chitrali said resettling the Afghans would "destroy peace" in the area.
Refugees in two camps near the city of Peshawar have been asked to relocate to Chitral or Dir districts by 31 August.
Otherwise, the government says, they will have to go back to Afghanistan. The refugees oppose leaving the camps.
The Pakistani government says the camps are used by militants and drug gangs.
People in Dir and Chitral accuse the Afghan refugees of taking over their businesses and indulging in criminal activities.
"The government wants to destroy peace in Chitral, so we will fully resist this move and, if required, start a movement against this decision," Abdul Akbar Chitrali, a member of parliament from Chitral, told the BBC.
"The people and elected representatives of Chitral are unanimous that the Afghan refugees would not be allowed to settle in Chitral," he said.
Mr Chitrali belongs to the MMA - a grouping of religious parties which rules North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
The group has been accusing the Pakistani government of encouraging "Talebanisation" in the province to defame the alliance and create problems for Afghanistan as well.
Last year, police caught an agent of the federal-run Intelligence Bureau (IB) while planting a bomb outside the chief minister's office in Peshawar, the capital of NWFP.
Meanwhile, political groups in Dir district also held a public meeting recently to oppose the government's decision to relocate the Afghan refugees there.
The refugees, who have been opposed to abandoning their camps, have come under increased pressure from the government which bulldozed some of their shops and houses earlier this month.
They are still reluctant to shift to Dir or Chitral, which are located in the remote Hindu Kush mountain range where winters are harsh and means of livelihood scarce.
"We would be willing to go to Dir or Chitral if the Pakistani government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) promise to provide us with water, electricity, hospitals and schools," says Haji Dost Mohammad, a refugee leader at the Katchagarhai refugee camp near Peshawar.
All these facilities were withdrawn by the government and the UNHCR some three years ago in anticipation that the refugees would return to Afghanistan.
In mid-May, at least 70 shops and three houses were destroyed after clashes broke out at Kachagarhai camp.
A day later, Pakistani security forces and refugees clashed at the Pir Alizai camp in Balochistan province after the authorities tried to demolish homes. At least three Afghan refugees were killed in the violence.
Katchagarhai and Pir Alizai are among four camps - home to about 300,000 people - that the Pakistani government plans to close.
They are inhabited by refugees who have fled decades of fighting in Afghanistan.
Refugees in the four camps have been given the option of re-locating to other camps in Pakistan, but analysts say that is easier said than done.
Pakistan's government has in any case said that it wants all two million or more Afghan refugees out of the country within the next three years.
A UN report released earlier this month found that most of those still in Pakistan want to stay.
Does the West need Musharraf?
By Ahmed Rashid
Ahmed Rashid, guest journalist and writer on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, reflects on the West's relationship with Gen Musharraf.
As the international community, particularly the US and Britain continue to make statements in favour of beleaguered Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the issue of how relevant he still is for the West's agenda in the region becomes critical.
Protests against Gen Musharraf multiply and he appears to be losing control in several areas of the country and facing dwindling public support.
Since 11 September, 2001, he has always appeared as the 'can-do' authoritarian general who can deliver on the demands placed by the Western alliance.
He has delivered hundreds of al-Qaeda prisoners to the US, positioned 80,000 troops on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to stop Taleban incursions and made peace with India.
Gen Musharraf now seems incapable of delivering on any front that is important to the West and yet the US and Europe continue to back him
However he has also failed to deliver on many counts, for example, by allowing the Taleban leadership to resettle in the city of Quetta and by carrying out controversial peace deals with tribal extremists on the border, while allowing Islamic extremists to go unchallenged at home as they spread ideas of jihad and Sharia law.
Some Western diplomats now believe that this two track policy has been Gen Musharraf's way of showing to the West that he is indispensable but that he faces many threats.
Such is the case with the mullahs of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, who are openly threatening the government with jihad and suicide attacks, while being closely tied to the military's main intelligence service, the ISI.
Until now the West has not worried about this, as long as Gen Musharraf kept Pakistan under control and concentrated on the West's primary agenda of catching al-Qaeda leaders.
The US may like to see free and fair elections in Pakistan, but not at the cost of Gen Musharraf departing the scene or plunging Pakistan's support - no matter how lukewarm the role is - in the war on terrorism into uncertainty.
So far the West has also accepted Gen Musharraf's plea that democracy in Pakistan must be tailored to local conditions - in short what he accepts as democracy and keeps him in power rather than the global norm of democracy.
The US State Department fully backs Musharraf's views on democracy.
"The direction that Gen Musharraf set for Pakistan is a good one, and we are supporting that,"' said Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia last month.
Yet the West's dependency on Gen Musharraf may have little relevance now if he is losing control of Pakistan and refusing to take on the extremists any longer - be they inside Pakistan or on its borders.
Nato and US military officers have long argued that Gen Musharraf is double dealing with the Taleban, causing Western military forces in Afghanistan major headaches.
Some of the biggest problems facing the current government appear to have been created by it, or by its allies.
In the past the judiciary in Pakistan has been a pliant group. But faced with the prospect of Gen Musharraf enjoying indefinite one-man rule, they have turned against him.
Meanwhile the army's allies, such as the Pakistani and Afghan Taleban, which have been fostered by the ISI since 9/11, have turned against their creator, creating havoc along the border. Other extremist groups have been growing in influence across the North West Frontier Province and Punjab.
Meanwhile in the country's commercial capital, Karachi, Gen Musharraf's most loyal political allies, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), have been at the centre of controversy after more than 40 people were killed in clashes in mid-May that many people believe were instigated by the MQM.
Finally Pakistani liberal and professional groups, long viewed by the US as potential allies of Gen Musharraf and the US led war on terror, are rapidly turning anti-American, as Washington is increasingly seen as Gen Musharraf's only visible prop.
"We have a very close relationship with President Musharraf," an unabashed Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said on 23 May in Washington.
In Washington his principle backer is the office of Vice President Dick Cheney which has enormous influence over Condoleezza Rice and the State Department.
Last winter, when Richard Boucher was set to hold a State Department seminar on Pakistan's future, he was forced to cancel the event by Mr Cheney's office, apparently because it may have been taken as a signal that US support for Gen Musharraf was declining.
Ironically it is the CIA and the Defense Department - the traditional supporters of the Pakistan army - which are now keen on changing policy towards Pakistan, and encouraging a greater role for civilian politicians.
A key concern in Washington and other capitals is that unless an acceptable alternative to Gen Musharraf appears, Western governments fear the unknown more than they do the known, no matter how discredited he may be.
Only long term Western support for a genuine democratic process can secure the growth and development of new politicians but so far that has been pointedly lacking.
The West must start considering how the army and the next civilian government can work together, rather than continuing to back a single individual against all odds.
Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore. He is the author of three books including Taliban and, most recently, Jihad. He has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia for the past 25 years and also writes for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Daily Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal.
Mosque protests across Pakistan
The protesters accuse the government of heavy-handedness
Protests have taken place across Pakistan against the government's military operation against radicals in Islamabad's radical Red Mosque.
In the north-western city of Peshawar more than 1,000 protesters vowed to avenge the death of the mosque's deputy leader, Abdul Rashid Ghazi.
A 36-hour assault on the Islamabad mosque left 75 people inside the mosque and 10 soldiers dead, officials say.
For months clerics and students campaigned for Sharia law in the city.
Maulana Yousaf Qureshi, prayer leader at the Peshawar's historic Mahabat Khan mosque, asked the congregation to raise their hands if they wanted to emulate the path of Mr Ghazi, who was killed on Tuesday.
Correspondents say that scores of people did so, while chanting in support of Islam and against President Musharraf.
Many people offered prayers for those killed in the attack at another hardline mosque in Lahore.
The ceremony was organised by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa organisation - a social welfare organisation linked to the banned Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba - which has been listed by the US as a terrorist organisation.
"This was genocide, hundreds of innocent women and children died," cleric Mohammad Saeed, the head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa organisation, said.
"This is a challenge for all Muslims and Pakistanis," he told the weekly prayer congregation.
"It is state terrorism, it is extreme brutality and those who killed the innocent will have a horrible fate," he said.
In the capital, hundreds of demonstrators attended a rally organized by Pakistan's main alliance of radical parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.
"This carnage will prove to be the last nail in the coffin of Musharraf's dictatorial rule in Pakistan," the group's deputy leader Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hydri told the gathering.
"Now there will be Red Mosques everywhere in Pakistan."
Protests were also held in the southern port city of Karachi.
In another development on Friday, police say they seized three suspected suicide bombers and a car filled with explosives on the outskirts of the north-western town of Dera Ismail Khan.
The main English language Dawn newspaper has reported that the army has started deploying troops in the southern districts of North West Frontier Province in areas adjoining the troubled Waziristan region.
The paper said that the deployment comes amid reports that an operation to curb militancy and extremism was imminent.
On Thursday evening President Pervez Musharraf said he was determined that extremism and terrorism would be eradicated in Pakistan.
He was speaking in a televised address to the nation .
Gen Musharraf praised Pakistan's security forces for freeing the Red Mosque in Islamabad "from the hands of terrorists".
"Unfortunately we have been up against our own people... they had strayed from the right path and become susceptible to terrorism."
"What do we want as a nation want?" President Musharraf asked. "What kind of Islam do these people represent?"
"In the garb of Islamic teaching they have been training for terrorism... they prepared the madrassa as a fortress for war and housed other terrorists in there.
"I will not allow any madrassa to be used for extremism."
Gen Musharraf said those members of the military who died had given their blood for the country.
The BBC's Barbara Plett in Pakistan says many Pakistanis supported the operation, saying the government had no choice but to confront the Islamic extremists.
But, she adds, the authorities fear a violent reaction from other radicals and the country is on high alert.
Pakistan militants end truce deal
Pro-Taleban militants in Pakistan's North Waziristan region say they have ended their truce with the government.
In a statement issued in Miranshah, the main town, the militants accused the government of breaking the agreement.
It came as Pakistan deployed more troops in the area, fearing "holy war" after the storming of the militant Red Mosque last week left 102 dead.
More than 60 Pakistanis, including soldiers and police recruits, have died in three attacks in the past two days.
Last September's truce had ended two years of clashes and was aimed at stopping cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
"We are ending the agreement today," the Taleban Shura or Council said in pamphlets distributed in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan.
The council leaders released the statement on Sunday amid growing tension in the area.
In a second consecutive day of violence at least 11 Pakistani soldiers - and three civilians - were killed in the Swat area of North West Frontier Province.
Two suicide bombers rammed cars into a convoy - as a roadside bomb also went off.
Another 40 were injured in the attack near the town of Matta, local police said.
In the city of Dera Ismail Khan, in the same province, at least 26 people died in a blast at a police recruitment centre.
It's very difficult to stop suicide attacks
More than 30 were wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up among young men waiting to take a police recruitment exam.
On Saturday, a suicide attack on an army convoy near the village of Daznary, about 50km (30 miles) north of Miranshah, killed 24 and wounded at least 30.
The area is well-known as a stronghold of pro-Taleban militants, police said.
The 102 dead in the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) siege included 11 soldiers and an as yet unknown number of extremists and their hostages.
The government has sent thousands of new troops to the north-west fearing there could be a new "holy war" in revenge.
Many of the militants in the Red Mosque complex were thought to have come from the north-west.
"The attacks in Swat and D I Khan could be linked to the Lal Masjid," Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told Geo TV.
"It's very difficult to stop suicide attacks."
President Pervez Musharraf last week vowed to root out extremists "from every corner of the country". (THIS PHRASE SOUNDS SOMEWHAT FAMILIAR TO ME).
Story from BBC NEWS:
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Two suicide bomb attacks killed at least 37 people in Pakistan on Thursday, as a militant backlash intensified following the army's storming of radical mosque in Islamabad earlier this month.
A wave of bomb attacks since a siege and assault on the Lal Masjid or Red Mosque complex, a militant stronghold in the capital, has swept across Pakistan, killing more than 160.
At least 30 people were killed on Thursday when a car bomber apparently targeting a vehicle carrying Chinese workers involved in mining activities rammed into a police van escorting them in the southern town of Hub.
The Chinese workers escaped unhurt but all seven policemen in the van and 23 bystanders were killed. Twenty-eight people were wounded.
Another seven people, including policemen, were killed in a car bomb attack in the far northwestern city of Hangu early on Thursday.
The attack in Hub, which lies at the border of Baluchistan and Sindh provinces, was the biggest -- and the first in southern Pakistan -- during the recent wave of violence.
"I saw flames all around me after a big bang. It appeared as if cars were flying in the air," Mohammad Raheem, a 17-year-old laborer, who was injured in the blast, told Reuters in a hospital in Karachi.
"There were cries and screams all around. After that I don't know what happened. I just fainted."
Chinese workers have been targeted in the same region by Baluch separatists in the past, but police suspected that the latest attack was part of a backlash against the storming of the Islamabad mosque.
"We believe it is part of the recent attacks carried out by Islamist militants," Tariq Masood Khosa, police chief of Baluchistan, told Reuters.
President Pervez Musharraf said on Wednesday he had no intention of declaring a state of emergency to counter the growing insecurity, and gave assurances that elections due later this year would go ahead as planned.
Karachi's stock market had gained almost 40 percent since the beginning of 2007, but the escalating violence has lopped close to 6 percent off the market's main index in the past two days.
A cleric in the southern city voiced fears of civil war if Musharraf stepped up his fight on militants in the northwest.
Musharraf has chosen a dangerous path," said Mufti Muhammad Naeem of Karachi's largest Islamic school in the aftermath of the Islamabad mosque bloodshed. "I think this situation could blow up in an all-out civil war."
The government said 102 people had been killed in the storming of the Lal Masjid. Many victims came from the northwest, most of them followers of cleric brothers advocating a militant brand of Islam reminiscent of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The car bomber who blew himself up at a police training centre in the northwestern city of Hangu, killing at least seven people, timed his attack to coincide with the arrival of a group of young recruits.
"The attacker tried to crash through the gate. He blew himself up as security guards at the gate tried to stop him," said Fakhr-e-Alam, top administration official of the city.
Hangu, which itself has a history of sectarian violence, is close to the lawless tribal regions on the Afghan border, known to be hotbeds of support for al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
A large number of al Qaeda fighters and their allies fled to Pakistan's tribal areas after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001.
At the same time as militants are believed to be taking revenge for the government's mosque complex assault in the capital, pro-Taliban fighters have abandoned a 10-month-old peace pact in North Waziristan, raising fears of a resurgence in violence, mainly in the conservative northwest. Authorities on Thursday sent tribal elders to the militants in a bid to salvage the pact.
Profile: Islamabad's Red Mosque
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
The controversial Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) is again the focus of a bloody confrontation between Pakistani security forces and radical students in the centre of the capital, Islamabad.
In the latest violence, a bomb went off near the mosque after clashes between police and Islamist students. Officials say that at least 11 people were killed.
At the beginning of July, the mosque was the scene of a bloody siege that ended with the deaths of more than 100 people after Pakistani troops stormed the building.
Before the bloodshed, the mosque had a reputation for radicalism, mostly attracting Islamic hardline students from North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas where support for the Taleban and al-Qaeda is strong.
A religious school for women, the Jamia Hafsa madrassa, was attached to the mosque. A male madrassa was only a few minutes' drive away.
Throughout most of its existence, the mosque was often favoured by the city elite, including prime ministers, army chiefs and presidents.
Pakistan's longest-ruling dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, was said to be very close to the former head of the Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdullah, who was famous for his speeches on jihad (holy war).
This was during the 1980s when the mujahideen's fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was at its peak, and jihad was seen as an acceptable clarion call in the Muslim world.
The mosque is located near the headquarters of Pakistan's shadowy ISI intelligence service, which helped train and fund the holy warriors, and a number of ISI staff are said to go there for prayers.
It was no secret that the Lal Masjid was a centre of radical Islamic learning, housing several thousand male and female students in adjacent seminaries.
Maulana Abdullah was assassinated in the mosque in the late 1990s, and after that the entire complex was run by his sons, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi died in the assault earlier this month, while his brother is under police detention after trying to escape the building in disguise - wearing a burka - shortly before the security forces launched their attack.
The brothers admitted to having had good contacts with many of the wanted leaders of al-Qaeda, including Osama Bin Laden.
This was in the years before the 11 September, 2001 attacks on the US, when jihad was part of Pakistan's state-sanctioned policy.
Since the "war on terror" began, however, both the Lal Masjid and the Jamia Hafsa denied having had any links with organisations now banned for supporting terrorism.
But they were vehement in their support for the "jihad against America" and openly condemned President Musharraf.
In speeches after Gen Musharraf openly announced his support for the "war on terror", the mosque was the centre of calls for his assassination.
One of these speeches was delivered by Maulana Masood Azhar, whose Jaish-e-Mohammad fundamentalist group members were later involved in several failed attempts on the life of the president.
Gen Musharraf was thus understandably perturbed by the mosque and its leaders, and repeatedly ordered action against them.
Up until July, all attempts to subdue the mosque and its leaders were unsuccessful.
The Lal Masjid and its madrassa had strong links to the tribal areas of Pakistan, which provided many of their students.
In a recent interview, Abdul Rashid Ghazi said that they had the support of the Waziristan Taleban and any actions against the madrassa would generate an "appropriate response".
Those warnings seem to have been true: since the violent storming of the mosque, a peace deal between the government and militants in North and South Waziristan has broken down, and violence has soared with scores of soldiers and militants being killed.
The Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa have seldom escaped the headlines. In July 2005, Pakistani security forces tried to raid the mosque following suicide bombings earlier that month in London.
The security personnel were met by baton-wielding women, who refused to let them enter the mosque or seminary compound.
Authorities said the security forces were investigating a link between the seminary and Shehzad Tanweer, one of the 7 July bombers.
The school has been under the spotlight ever since. Earlier this year it launched a high profile campaign against massage parlours and DVD stores which it said embraced decadent Western values.
'Fight to the death'
The madrassa's administration was particularly vocal in raising the issue of missing people in Pakistan - hundreds of suspected radical militants and their families who are allegedly in the detention of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.
It was also a leading light in the protests in Pakistan against Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which led to demonstrations all over the Muslim world.
And it was the Jamia Hafsa which British schoolgirl Misbah Rana, also known as Molly Campbell, was reported to have been interested in joining after arriving in Pakistan at the centre of an international custody row.
The mosque was at the centre of another controversy recently when it launched a campaign against the demolition of mosques in Islamabad by the capital authority.
After the administration started the demolition of part of the mosque, said to have been constructed illegally, students of the seminaries launched an all-out campaign against them.
They prevented the authorities from reaching the site and then occupied the building of a nearby children's library.
Most of this was done by the female students, many of whom were carrying Kalashnikovs during the occupation.
The students then set-up a round the clock vigil and promised to "fight to the death" after the government threatened to evict them.
The situation was only defused after the authorities backed down and offered talks.
But now the option for talks is no longer there, replaced by a protracted outbreak of violence.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/07/27 16:13:18 GMT
"The consensus that is emerging in Pakistan is that the military has no role in politics," said Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences. "The military has lost its supporters in the media, in intelligentsia and also among politicians. As an institution it's really isolated. Its capability to dominate and control Pakistan is not possible anymore."
The broad dissatisfaction is rooted in many things, including a sense of everyday insecurity and rising prices, dislike of General Musharraf's alliance with the Bush administration and anger that the military has reaped rewards for itself but not fulfilled its promises to the people.
The poll was based on interviews with 4,000 adults in rural and urban Pakistan between mid-June and early July, before the Red Mosque assault; it carried a margin of error of plus or minus 1.58 percentage points.
On whether the government had done a good job "on issues important to you," 58 percent gave the government poor or very poor marks; 56 percent said they felt less safe than a year ago.
More detailed questions on the military, the results of which were to be released Thursday, showed that it remained one of the most highly regarded institutions in Pakistan, with a steady 80 percent approval rating.
But the poll also found that a growing number of people disapproved of the military's intrusion into civilian government. Sixty-two percent of respondents said General Musharraf should resign as army chief if he were to remain as president.
The president's spokesman, Gen. Rashid Qureishi, declined to comment on the poll results until he had seen them. But he said that General Musharraf declared in Karachi this week that he would run for re-election by the national and provincial assemblies between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. "Knowing him and gauging the public mood, we are very confident that he will win," said General Qureishi, who has retired from the military.
Asked if the military's image had been damaged by its operations at the Red Mosque and in the tribal areas, where the government deployed additional Pakistani troops last month, the army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, maintained that they were carried out on the orders of the government and enjoyed broad public support.
"It is up to the public from what perspective they look at it," he said. Referring to the Red Mosque siege, he added, "It has had a positive effect because the operation was carried out against people who were using a place of worship for their own interests."
When he took power in a coup in 1999, General Musharraf was welcomed by Pakistanis disillusioned with years of unstable civilian governments dogged by corruption. He was at first credited with reining in some of the worst excesses of avaricious politicians and with overseeing a growing economy and a more open Pakistani society.
But since General Musharraf's pledge to cooperate with the United States-led battle against terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001, it is the military that has been by far the biggest beneficiary of about $10 billion in official American aid for Pakistan.
While the economy has expanded, so has the reach of the military's many enterprises, which extend into virtually every corner of the economy, including bottled water plants, cement factories and lucrative real estate developments.
"Pakistan's military today runs a huge commercial enterprise," says Ayesha Siddiqa, author of a recent book, "Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy," in which she estimates that the military's internal economy is worth billions of dollars.
The military's dominance of the political, economic and social life of Pakistan has matured to such an extent under General Musharraf, Ms. Siddiqa contends, that the military has ensured a long-term, if not permanent, role for itself in politics. "Even members of the opposition and civil society have openly or discreetly admitted that the organization cannot be got rid of," she said.
That higher visibility also means that the military is blamed for many problems. Complaints about government corruption are still common. So is grumbling about the military government's inability to control inflation or to maintain law and order.
Uncertainty pervaded even Rawalpindi, the neighboring garrison town.
Muhammad Rasheed, 80, a roadside barber complained about the rising prices of flour and oil, saying he could not afford even to replace the broken mirrors on his wall. Then he complained about insecurity.
"There is no law here," he said. "The government has no control. Musharraf can't even shake hands with ordinary people. He is so scared of his life."
Aqeel Anjum, 19, a laborer nearby, said the army had failed to "feed the stomachs of the poor" and accused it of pocketing money meant for development.
The general's own political missteps have not helped, including his attempt in March to oust Pakistan's chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a move overturned by the Supreme Court. In the International Republican Institute poll, 72 percent opposed the president's decision.
As General Musharraf's standing has eroded, speculation has grown about a possible power-sharing deal with his political nemesis, the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London to avoid corruption charges.
This week there was fresh talk that General Musharraf was considering a state of emergency, which his information minister, Tariq Azeem, told The Associated Press, "cannot be ruled out."
Such a step would give General Musharraf and the military enhanced powers and postpone elections, and only insert the military all the more into the running of government. It would also probably meet strong resistance from the political opposition and could risk even greater instability, already a chronic problem in the country.
A World Bank assessment recently ranked Pakistan in the lowest 10th percentile for political stability and said corruption was as bad as it was in 1998.
That was just a year before General Musharraf seized power from Ms. Bhutto's successor, Nawaz Sharif, accusing him of gross corruption and mismanagement.
But if there is a wide consensus about the dangers that Pakistan poses, there is very little agreement about what to do about it. A modest number of the index's experts, fewer than 1 in 3, favors threatening Pakistan with sanctions. Yet about the same number support increasing U.S. aid to the country. Such a muddled response underscores the puzzle that Pakistan presents to American policymakers. What is clear is that the experts do not favor more of the same: More than half of those surveyed believe the current U.S. policy toward Pakistan is having a negative impact on U.S. national security. Getting the strategy right could be critical if the world is to keep those dark clouds from forming.
Pakistan agrees peace pact with pro-Taliban tribal fighters
Declan Walsh in Islamabad
Wednesday September 6, 2006
The Pakistani army and pro-Taliban tribal militants signed a peace pact yesterday aimed at ending months of ambushes, assassinations and pitched battles along the volatile Afghan border.
The unusual agreement saw the government effectively recognising a force of tribal fighters whose leaders have links to the Taliban or al-Qaida.
Under the deal, the Pakistani army will end its military campaign against the self-declared "Pakistani Taliban" - a loose alliance of tribal militias with strong links to the Afghan Islamist guerrillas - in the North Waziristan tribal agency. In return, the rebels undertake to halt all attacks on the Pakistani army, which have resulted in 350 deaths over the past three years, and prevent cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
President Pervez Musharraf hopes the deal will restore order to the most turbulent corner of the tribal belt, where his forces effectively lost control last spring.
The militants also imposed strict social edicts reminiscent of the Afghan Taliban such as preventing men from shaving their beards, forbidding shops from selling movies and publicly executing accused criminals. But after failing to defeat the rebels by force, the military agreed to a ceasefire last May and turned to peace talks. By yesterday Pakistani army troops had started to return to base and 132 detainees were released from jail.
The deal was struck in advance of today's visit by Gen Musharraf to Afghanistan, with whom relations reached a new low this year amid mutual recrimination. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to organise, arm and mount cross-border attacks from bases in areas such as North Waziristan.
The nation's efforts to straddle the fault line between moderate and militant Islam offer a cautionary tale for the post-9/11 world.
If there is an address, an exact location for the rift tearing Pakistan apart, and possibly the world, it is a spot 17 miles (28 kilometers) west of Islamabad called the Margalla Pass. Here, at a limestone cliff in the middle of Pakistan, the mountainous west meets the Indus River Valley, and two ancient, and very different, civilizations collide. To the southeast, unfurled to the horizon, lie the fertile lowlands of the Indian subcontinent, realm of peasant farmers on steamy plots of land, bright with colors and the splash of serendipitous gods. To the west and north stretch the harsh, windswept mountains of Central Asia, land of herders and raiders on horseback, where man fears one God and takes no prisoners.
This is also where two conflicting forms of Islam meet: the relatively relaxed and tolerant Islam of India, versus the rigid fundamentalism of the Afghan frontier. Beneath the surface of Pakistan, these opposing forces grind against each other like two vast geologic plates, rattling teacups from Lahore to London, Karachi to New York. The clash between moderates and extremists in Pakistan today reflects this rift, and can be seen as a microcosm for a larger struggle among Muslims everywhere. So when the earth trembles in Pakistan, the world pays attention.
Musharraf 'keeping options open'
Pakistan's government is keeping all options open after exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced plans to return next month, a minister says.
Mr Sharif has said he will go back on 10 September to challenge the embattled President, General Pervez Musharraf.
Another former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, is demanding a response before the weekend to her terms for a power-sharing deal with Gen Musharraf.
Gen Musharraf is seeking re-election by parliament before its term expires.
On Thursday, the US reminded Gen Musharraf of his commitment to resign his army position before contesting elections.
"We expect him to honour that commitment," said a US spokesman.
"The government is keeping all options open on Nawaz Sharif's return," Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani told the BBC .
"If he comes back, we will make a strategy."
MUSHARRAF UNDER PRESSURE
9 March: Musharraf suspends chief justice for "abuse of power". Lawyers protest
April: Protests grow, amid clashes with police
12 May: 34 people die as rival political groups clash in Karachi
11 July: 102 people die when army storms radical Red Mosque in Islamabad
July-Aug: Sharp rise in suicide attacks by pro-Taleban militants
20 July: Supreme Court reinstates chief justice
9 Aug: Musharraf rejects emergency rule
23 Aug: Supreme Court says exiled ex-PM Nawaz Sharif can return
Mr Sharif - who served two terms but was deposed by Gen Musharraf in 1999 - announced his return a week after Pakistan's top court defied the government and ruled that he a legal right to go back.
Observers say Mr Sharif could still face jail if he returns.
Mr Sharif said he planned to "start a decisive struggle against dictatorship", adding that Gen Musharraf should step down from the presidency and from his army post.
He also said it would be "unfortunate" if Ms Bhutto made a deal with Gen Musharraf.
"I disagree with Ms Bhutto's current policy of shaking hands with a dictator," he said.
Pakistani newspapers say talks over a possible power-sharing deal between Mr Musharraf and Ms Bhutto have stalled.
She earlier said she was close to reaching a deal but government officials said there were key sticking points.
The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says one problem is the balance of power between parliament and the president.
Our correspondent says Ms Bhutto wants the president to give up the power to dissolve parliament, which she hopes to head after forthcoming elections.
Gen Musharraf is seeking support for re-election as president.
But he is under pressure to reach a deal with the opposition after several Supreme Court rulings have gone against him.
Under Pakistani law, prime ministers cannot serve more than two terms - which would disqualify both Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif.
Ms Bhutto wants this clause removed from constitution, and she says a deal will only be made with Gen Musharraf if he resigns his army role.
The general's spokesman said on Thursday he was considering standing down from his army position, but no decision had yet been made.
Mr Sharif was sentenced to life in prison for offences including tax evasion and treason after the 1999 coup.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/08/31 10:08:38 GMT
Venturing into the Taleban's backyard
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, South Waziristan
Sitting inside a cramped shop in the town of Jandola in Pakistan's restive tribal area of South Waziristan, we are hoping to be taken to meet the man who is arguably Pakistan's most feared militant.
Baitullah Mehsud has been accused of organising some of the most devastating suicide attacks in the country.
His exploits have included the capture of over 200 Pakistan soldiers on 30 August.
The shop is full of customers, many of whom carry AK-47 rifles.
The shoppers are pro-Taleban militants, or simply Taleban. The reality here is that the terms are inter-changeable.
Jandola marks the beginning of their territory which extends right up to the Afghan border.
On our way to the town, we crossed several check posts and a large army convoy heading the other way. We were stopped and searched by troops once.
The soldiers appear to be from Pakistan's extreme northern area, near Gilgit. They are not native to the area, and are mostly Shia Muslims.
Shias are despised by the predominantly Sunni Muslim Taleban.
When our contacts finally arrive, the change in the atmosphere is electric as their leader walked in.
Mahmood is a cheerful and cherubic young man in his mid-twenties, and greets us in the traditional tribal manner - hand on chest and a slap on the hands.
He is accompanied by four other men - all in their early twenties.
After the greetings Mahmood - the smiling Taleban - motions us to follow.
Outside we board a pick-up truck for our onward journey.
Mahmood takes the wheel, his AK-47 at his shoulder. My colleague joins him in the front passenger seat.
I am joined in the rear by a young militant called Faisal.
The rest settle in the back, where one of them mans a mounted machine gun.
As we fly along the dusty and pot-holed road, I notice that it is a harsh, arid terrain, with craggy and forbidding mountains lining the horizon.
"A fedayeen attacked a convoy here two days ago," says Faisal as we round a hillside.
Fedayeen - literally those who sacrifice themselves - is the Taleban honorific for a suicide bomber.
Faisal goes on to claim there were several deaths, although the army only admitted three soldiers were injured.
A few minutes later we enter a valley with narrow gorges.
Faisal says the area is called Tangh and has historical importance.
Before partition, he says, Mehsud tribesmen ambushed a 200-vehicle British convoy here.
He says that not a single man escaped as the British forces were cut down.
The past seems to hold few lessons for the present, Faisal argues, because another invading army - this time in the form of the Pakistani military - is also trying to blunder its way through.
But in this territory, there is almost a complete absence of Pakistani soldiers: there are only abandoned check posts and fortifications.
"They haven't come back since we captured the convoy," my guide explains. "Even the British never came to stay - they knew well enough.
"We will not tolerate the presence of any armed men other than our own in our territory."
It takes us another couple of hours before we reach our destination.
During this time we pass through several small villages.
The reaction of the people is startling - the children smile and wave, while the adults look on with respect and pride.
It appears that local support for the militants is almost universal.
Faisal explains to me why he and his counterparts are increasingly targeting the army.
"We are forced to do this because of the government's policies for America's benefit," he says.
He and Mahmood are convinced that if opposition leader Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan in a power-sharing deal with President Musharraf, this pro-Americanism will get stronger.
"She is actually a Shia, so what else can we expect," he says.
This anti-Shia resentment is palpable.
In early August, Baitullah Mehsud's militants slaughtered a captured Shia soldier by cutting off his head.
Minutes later we are at our destination.
We see two huge walled compounds, encompassing the homesteads typical of the area, located in a small valley.
A group of children rush out to greet us, followed by several armed Taleban.
Inside, we are told our host - Zulfiqar Mehsud, Baitullah's spokesman and deputy - will take a few hours to join us.
We do not know the cause of the delay, but can be certain that it is not because of the manoeuvres of the Pakistan army, because this is an area in which the militants are in complete control.
What we didn't know at this stage was that Baitullah Mehsud was not here, but away fighting in Afghanistan.