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Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Wednesday, 3 September 2008 17:29 UK

Pakistan rulers in the cross-hairs

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

Bullet marks
Two bullets struck a car in Mr Gilani's motorcade

The failed attempt on the life of Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani highlights one fact more than anything.

It shows again how close Pakistan's leadership live to the consequences of their decisions, especially when it comes to the "war on terror".

At the moment no one has claimed responsibility for the attack and an investigation has only just begun.

But pro-Taleban militants and their al-Qaeda associates are likely to top the list of suspects.

The Pakistan army has just pulled back after a blistering five-week operation in the tribal areas.

According to the army, this has led to the killing and capture of hundreds of militants.

Anarchy and terror remain the militants best bet, and what better way to achieve this?
Security analyst

The militants have fought back with a series of suicide attacks, including one on a military factory which left 69 people dead.

The army campaign has left the militants hard pressed and many were sighing with relief when the government announced a month-long ceasefire for Ramadan.

But not all militants were quite so welcoming of the ceasefire - a few groups said they would continue fighting.

In any case, security analysts maintain militants would not regard the ceasefire as applying to the targeting of top government officials.

"In the current situation, any high-profile government personality is game," explains one analyst.

"Anarchy and terror remain the militants best bet, and what better way to achieve this?"

Talks with militants

Wednesday's attack follows a steady deterioration in relations between the government and the militants and comes just three days before a presidential election.

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier stands guard on a street in the semi-autonomous Bajaur tribal district on August 8, 2008.
Pakistani troops have attacked the militants in recent weeks

Dealings between the government and the militants seemed to start off on the right foot.

The coalition came to power in February saying it was committed to dialogue rather than military action. This was demonstrated by a military pull-back in Waziristan and other tribal areas.

There then followed a peace deal in the Swat valley and talks with militants in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal regions.

However, militant leaders told the BBC several times during this period that they did not expect the dialogue to last.

In particular, they expressed their reservations over the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), led by Asif Zardari, widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Prime Minister Gilani belongs to that party, which overcame the loss of its leader last December to win February's general election. Mr Zardari is favourite to be the new president.

Ms Bhutto's killing was blamed on militants loyal to pro-Taleban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

He denied involvement, but the militants have issued threats to kill government ministers in the past and are known for their anti-PPP feelings - the Bhuttos are minority Shias and the party has close links with the US.

Security fears

Recent cross-border raids in the tribal region by foreign forces based in Afghanistan have angered many in Pakistan.

Investigators search for clues
Security officials have been combing the area for clues

Wednesday's assassination attempt could also be the militants' way of replying to recent statements by Pakistan's Interior Ministry chief, Rehman Malik.

He has said that for every bullet the militants fired, the government would hit back with 10.

That is harsh language to use against men for whom death has little meaning.

That someone has been able to fire shots at the convoy of the prime minister also speaks volumes about security arrangements.

It remains to be seen if this was due to a failure in the security apparatus, or something more sinister.

After Ms Bhutto's assassination much was made of the fact that she did not have adequate security.

It was also insinuated that this was by design, and that rogue elements in the security forces had been involved.

The latest incident could have been lethal if the militants had moved in with their favoured weapon - the suicide bomber.

But Wednesday's attempt on the Islamabad highway may well just be just a warning shot in an escalating new war.

The only difference may be that the cross-hairs have moved from former President Musharraf and the military, onto the Pakistan People's Party.


FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Sydney Morning HeraldPakistan probes attack on PM's motorcade - 26 mins ago
Asian Age Militant: Attack was revenge - 37 mins ago
UPI PM motorcade shooting investigated - 5 hrs ago
The Australian Pakistan PM survives gun attack - 7 hrs ago
Herald Sun Pakistan PM dodges bullets - 7 hrs ago
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