09/21/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Osama Bin Laden’s holy war might be useful to Musharraf

by Qaiser Felix
Al-Qaeda calls for reprisal against Musharraf whom it calls a loyal collaborator of the United States. Experts say threats might reinforce his position ahead of upcoming presidential elections. For others these elections are but a power game unrelated to the real needs of the population.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The video in which Osama Bin Laden declares war on the “tyrant Pervez Musharraf” and its apostate army might bring votes to the Pakistani president. The message comes at a time when Musharraf is under siege from several sides because he is army chief trying to strike a deal with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto before the upcoming presidential elections.

In the North-West Frontier Province, along the border with Afghanistan, clashes continue between the army and Taliban rebels and tribal militiamen. In the rest of the country flour is in short supply and food prices rose considerably during the holy month of Ramadan.

In two separate videotapes, Bin Laden al-Qaeda’s number 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, called for reprisals against the “infidel” Musharraf for the Pakistani army’s intervention against extremist students who had occupied the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in which about 100 people died, including cleric Ghazi Abdul Rashid.

The president stands for “loyalty, submissiveness and aid to America against the Muslims” and his soldiers “are hunting dogs under Bush's crucifix,” the video said.

Al-Qaeda has called for Musharraf’s overthrow in the past because of his key role as a US ally in the “war against the terror.” However, analysts note that this time the group’s message coincides with the announcement by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) setting October 6 as the date for the presidential election which is likely to increase US and Western support for the president.

Analysts told AsiaNews that the country’s main political actors—Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA, an alliance of six religious-political parties)—are all vying for voters’ support in a country of 160 million people. But for most people basic needs are the main issue and are thus not paying too much attention to politics, seen by most as a power game indifferent to their plight.

Musharraf said he would step down as army chief once elected, but critics point out that he had made the same pledge before.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Thursday told Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon in two different meetings that they would not accept President Pervez Musharraf’s re-election in uniform and would resign from the assemblies to block his move.

In the meantime, the ECP is set to examine Musharraf’s candidacy on September 29.

Supreme Court Bar Association President Munir A. Malik said his organisation would keep the Commission’s activities under close scrutiny and conduct peaceful protests around the country to oppose the general’s candidacy and back the Rule of Law.

The opposition staged a protest today in front the Supreme Court Building in Islamabad. The Supreme Court will in fact rule in the next few days on the constitutionality of Musharraf’s candidacy.

In Karachi police arrested opposition activists.

Federal Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr Sher Afgan Niazi said that the president’s candidacy was constitutional and that the Supreme Court could not ban it.

He added that Musharraf has enough votes in the current parliament to be re-elected and that it can do so without the votes of either the PPP or the MMA.

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