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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 August 2007, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
Pakistanis fear for the future
Pakistan has seen months of political turmoil following President Musharraf's suspension of the country's chief justice in March, a move the Supreme Court ruled illegal in July.

The siege and subsequent storming of Islamabad's radical Red Mosque has been followed by a spate of bomb attacks, raising fears that Islamic extremism is on the rise.

Here, readers in Pakistan share their anxieties for the future of their country and discuss the options ahead of elections due later in the year.

YOUSUF ZAHID, 36, MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT, KARACHI

Yousuf Zahid
Yousuf Zahid: Islamic extremism is a real threat in Pakistan
A very real threat exists now in Pakistan. Islamic extremism is here to stay, no matter what actions are taken.

This is guerrilla warfare and no military in the world has ever won against such tactics. Look at what happened in Waziristan and the peace treaty with the tribal leaders there.

The Red Mosque tragedy happened in Islamabad, right under the nose of the government.

There are questions, which not even the media is asking directly, especially after the recent crackdown on private television channels.

Many common people believe that the entire event was a farce, an orchestrated theatre with a scapegoat named Abdul Rashid Ghazi [the deputy leader of the mosque].

The first domino has tumbled. Fear is starting to settle in. For even I gave it a thought as to which areas I need to avoid.

Musharraf's blunders this year were so many. But he is serving international interests amicably.

He may have concocted a few dramas in his fight against extremism but for the moment he is the ideal choice. He is charismatic and has rare leadership skills.

He should resign from the military, hold fair and transparent elections and then seek re-election as a president from the new parliament. This is the only way he could gain the lost respect and dignity.

He should also allow [former prime ministers] Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto to return to the country. Benazir remains the only politically educated and mature candidate with genuine leadership skills.

SALEHA KHAN, 22, STUDENT, ISLAMABAD

I am not happy with what's going on in Pakistan at the moment. Nobody is happy right now with our government. Maybe they are trying their best, I don't know.

There's so much violence right now, almost every day something happens. I don't want an Iraq-like situation developing in Pakistan.

I know I should avoid crowded places, but I want life to continue as normal. If something is meant to happen it will happen.

The problem with Musharraf is that he has the support of the West, but he doesn't have the support of his own people
I was very pro-Musharraf at the beginning, but this year my view of him changed completely because of the way he treated the chief justice.

Pakistan is a front-line state in the fight against terrorism. It's a strategically important region. That's why Pakistan needs support from the West and other countries in the world.

The problem with Musharraf is that he has that support, but he doesn't have the support of his own people. I am happy to give him another chance, but he needs to convince me that he can sort out the mess.

The government should be accountable to its people, it shouldn't act independently.

They should have been honest about the number of casualties in the Red Mosque. I could hear the strong fire and I suspect that there were more casualties. We feel that we were spared the truth.

I am afraid. I am not sure what will happen next. I think we should brace ourselves for a few difficult years.

RIZWAN QAISAR, 27, MEDICAL COLLEGE LECTURER, KOHAT

Rizvan Qaisar
Rizvan thinks that Pakistan should stop being pro-American
The growing Islamic unrest is more a retaliation against the pro-American policies of our government, rather than people's love for radical Islam.

During the mosque siege I saw young shaved men in Western attire pelting stones at police armed personnel carriers. This is no more a cleric's rage: even the moderate Pakistani has started to develop anger towards the government's pro-American stance.

I strongly believe that if the leader of the country stops playing into the hands of the West today, Islamic unrest will soon become part of the past.

President Musharraf has been widely applauded as an altruist and charismatic leader, but three of his steps have turned opinion against him. The operation in Waziristan, the chief justice controversy and the Red Mosque siege.

If Justice Chaudhry was contesting the election, I would surely give him my vote alongside the whole of my family
The foreign militants in Waziristan have been living there for 25 years and never posed any threat to Pakistan. They were the people who safeguarded our Western borders in the war against the Soviets.

Now Musharraf has provoked them to make a 180-degree turn. The solution is the total withdrawal of the army from tribal areas. Only then will there be law and order in Pakistan.

As for the Red Mosque - it's true that everyone believed that its occupants were criminals.

But the common man believes that there were better solutions than a military operation, solutions that could guarantee the safe exit of hundreds of women and children.

Who can replace Musharraf? I honestly don't see anyone with true spirit to lead the country.

If Justice Chaudhry was contesting the election, I would surely give him my vote alongside the whole of my family.

As for the future, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

HASHIM SYED, 54, WRITER AND SOCIAL ANALYST, KARACHI

Hashim Syed
The biggest uncertainty facing the country is who will take the reins of power
The current civil unrest in Pakistan is over-exaggerated. I don't think Islamic unrest is growing.

The incidents after the Red Mosque siege are a reaction to the way the government handled the crisis, but they will soon subside.

The country has an excellent madrassa [religious school] system. These seminaries have provided the best possible opportunity to poor and neglected sections of the population.

For some, the madrassa system is a lucrative business and a political platform too. They would not like to see any disturbances to continue for long.

Except for a small number of seminaries in the north-western areas, where militancy is a way of life, the madrassas in urban areas cannot afford to take on the state, and no long-term civil unrest can be caused by their activities.

The biggest uncertainly facing the country is who will take the reins of power.

Since the stability to the country has been brought by the wisdom and political will of President Musharraf, his continuity is considered by many as desirable.

The problem with a political alternative is that those who have enjoyed power so far, have become corrupt. Many of the top leaders outside Pakistan cannot explain the sources of their assets and income.

The political will to solve the Red Mosque crisis, and the acceptance of the final verdict for the chief justice have actually raised Musharraf's profile.

His only problem is finding a legal and political process which can let him stay in power for another five years.



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