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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Musharraf fears fallout of Iraq attack
Qazi Hussain Ahmed and supporters
Islamist groups could capitalise on anti-US feeling
Zaffar Abbas


Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is hoping against hope that the US administration will give up the idea of carrying out a military attack on Iraq.


Pakistan's military ruler feels the Islamic fervour that the attack on Iraq could create will only add to his problems.

And it is not because of any love for the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

It is because he fears that a possible backlash may engulf the entire Islamic world, with Pakistan no exception.

President Musharraf has not yet neutralised the effects of the US-led war in Afghanistan, and on a more limited scale, his government continues to face the challenge of Islamic extremism.

Pakistan's military ruler feels the Islamic fervour that the attack on Iraq could create will only add to his problems.

President Musharraf's worries about fallout from the intended US military strikes against Saddam Hussein are understandable.

Gulf war protests

In 1990 when US-led allied forces gathered in the Gulf for the first military operation against Iraq, Pakistan witnessed massive street demonstrations across the country.

Pakistani soldier
Pakistan joined the allied force in 1991
Islamic leaders, who otherwise have no mass following, cashed on the situation to make it look like a war between the forces of Islam and the infidel.

And all this happened when Pakistan had itself sent a sizeable number of its troops in support of the allied action.

This time the situation in Pakistan is even more precarious.

Afghan backlash

When, in the wake of the events of 11 September, US-led military strikes started against the Taleban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, there were a series of violent demonstrations in Pakistan.

There were calls by extremist Islamic leaders for a holy war or jihad against the Americans, and thousands of people from the country's North-West Frontier Province went to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taleban.

US marine in Kabul
US war in Afghanistan has complicated the picture
This was the time when many Islamic leaders referred to President Musharraf as a "stooge of the Americans", and called for his removal from office.

The sudden collapse of the Taleban brought the situation under control to some extent.

But even today, bands of Islamic extremists in Pakistan try to target Westerners and local Christians in retaliation for the war in Afghanistan.

Continuing US operations in Afghanistan, and reports of civilian casualties during air strikes have not gone down well - even with liberal sections of Pakistani society.

Besides, the never-ending conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and US support for the former, has also been a cause of anti-American feeling in Pakistan.

Election fears

There is yet another factor which is a cause for concern.

With the general elections in Pakistan less than six weeks away, six prominent Islamic political parties have formed an alliance to jointly contest the elections, with opposition to President Musharraf's pro-West policies as their main campaign slogan.

In Pakistan's electoral politics, Islamist groups have never been able to get more than 10% of the vote.

But senior officials believe that if the present confrontation between the US and Iraq develops into a military conflict, the expected wave of Islamic fervour is bound to help the Islamic alliance.

President Musharraf's would be reluctant to admit that such an eventuality would endanger his own position.

But he is convinced that a US military strike against Iraq will have negative repercussions in Pakistan and the rest of the Islamic world, and is hoping that the United States will take this into account.


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29 Aug 02 | Middle East
28 Aug 02 | Politics
27 Aug 02 | Middle East
27 Aug 02 | Americas
27 Aug 02 | Business
26 Aug 02 | Middle East
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