Pakistan: Circling The Drain?

Pakistan is key to America’s efforts to end global terrorism — and to prevent acts like September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York and the Pentagon.

Pakistan harbors terrorists: maybe even Osama bin Laden.  Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

And Pakistan may be circling the drain.

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By Imtiaz Shah
Reuters

Hundreds of black-suited Pakistani lawyers and flag-waving opposition activists launched a cross-country protest on Thursday, as the year-old civilian coalition government scrambled for ways to avert a showdown.

The movement for an independent judiciary could destabilize President Asif Ali Zardari’s government at a time when the nuclear-armed U.S. ally faces severe problems from Islamist militants and a sinking economy.

Police detained hundreds of political activists on Wednesday, and banned rallies. But Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said on Thursday the so-called long march that set out from the cities of Karachi and Quetta would be allowed to go ahead.

“We’ll not stop them, but if someone tries to take the law in his hand I must say in the house that he won’t be allowed,” Malik told the National Assembly.

“This is a war for power and rule and unless we get out of this sphere, such things will keep on happening.”

Opposition leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has thrown his weight behind the lawyers, putting him into open confrontation with Zardari.

Infuriated by a Supreme Court ruling barring him and his brother from elected office, and by Zardari ejecting his party from power in Punjab province and imposing central rule, Sharif has called the protest a defining moment for Pakistan.

Pakistani lawyers and members of civil rights movement march ... 
Pakistani lawyers and members of civil rights movement march along a street as they take part in a demonstration in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, March 12, 2009. Protesters vowed Thursday to press ahead with a major march onto Pakistan’s parliament in defiance of bans and hundreds of arrests by a government that has come increasingly under fire from its critics. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Stoking tension in a country with a grim record of assassinations, a spokesman for Sharif said the government had “hatched a plot” to kill him.

Zardari’s spokesman dismissed that as “political gimmickry” and said the Sharif bothers had been promised full security.

Pakistan is vital to U.S. efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan and defeat al Qaeda. The United States wants Pakistan to focus on fighting militancy rather than on political power plays.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20
090312/wl_nm/us_pakistan_protest

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