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Lal Masjid crisis may derail Pak elections: Report
Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai
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July 10, 2007 20:03 IST

According to Statfor, a leading US-based think-tank, the Lal Masjid fallout may derail the Pakistan election schedule apart from also prompting the US to act.

Its latest report says, 'A militant reaction to the Red Mosque operation or a sweeping government action against jihadist forces -- or both -- is likely to lead to significant violence and unrest. The United States likely will be watching the situation closely and will be ready to act should the situation arise. In such a situation the government could move to impose some form of emergency rule."

Its latest analysis claims, 'Even if Musharraf decides against imposing emergency rule, the fallout from the Red Mosque operation could still cause a delay in the elections. At the very least, Parliament could be dismissed, which would allow Musharraf to continue as a president leading a caretaker government for some time before new elections could be held. But this will only allow him a limited amount of time to conclude ongoing back-channel talks with his political opponents to secure his own political future.'

Tuesday's events in Islamabad suggest that Musharraf's idea of enlightened moderation might have got a boost but he will fall short of capitalising his tough stand against the radicals who were bent upon resorting to violence.

According to many Islamabad analysts, Musharraf has won this round by displaying his political courage and cunning operational skills to handle 'enemies' but it's anybody's guess whether he will able to control the damage in coming

Rahimullah Yusufzai, Peshawar-based senior journalist says, "Musharraf has won a deceptive victory. In the long term it won't help him."

While talking to, many analysts said Monday night's negotiations were bound to fail because they started late. They say that they are not surprised by the turn of the events.

"The Musharraf government has been using the army against the people having anti-US sentiments but that has fuelled the crisis," says Yusufzai who is keeping track of the unfolding event in Lal Masjid.

He states, "Musharraf may claim to the West that he is a tough guy who can fight the radicals. But, the middle and poor classes are angry with him. There were children and women in that mosque and people are not impressed by the attack."

It is obvious that once confirmed figures of the actual damage and deaths inside the mosque comes out, Musharraf is likely to face the fury of radicals and Islamists.

If a message such as 'Musharraf storms Lal Masjid' spreads, a wave of attacks against the government is likely and it will add to the threat to Musharraf's life.

Stratfor has also said, 'There also could be assassination attempts against Musharraf and other key government and military officials'.

Their report assesses that the Pakistan government is going to engage in anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations elsewhere, especially in the North-West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

While giving a US-centric view Stratfor says, 'The imposition of emergency rule could allow the government to get a handle on the militancy in the country and even lead to the capture or elimination of Al Qaeda-related high-value targets -- albeit after a long and bloody campaign. But it would further complicate the political situation because the parliamentary and presidential elections slated for the fall would have to be postponed. This could create political unrest in addition to a militant insurgency."

Musharraf's dependence on Benazir Bhutto and other religious leaders will increase after the attack on Lal Masjid.

The report says, ' In the wake of the Red Mosque operation, Musharraf will need not just the support of the Pakistan People's Party, whose secular ideology he shares, he also will need the support of some of the more pragmatic Islamist elements to help counter extremists and militants. Here is where Maulana Fazlur Rehman's Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam -- the largest component party of the Islamist coalition Mutahiddah Majlis-i-Amal -- could play a role. But this depends on whether the president will be able to press ahead with the elections and deal with the militancy at the same time. Musharraf no longer has the luxury of dealing with them separately."

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