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Since 1st March, 1999
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Suicide-bombings did not lead Pakistan into an emergency, or out of it. They were a ruse used by the president to consolidate his slackening hold on power. With the nitpicking judges gone and the constitution moulded to sustain Pervez Musharraf in power, much of the purpose behind the imposition of the martial order has been achieved. Naturally, the persistence of suicide-bombings during the emergency, or after — as now — should cause little surprise. The recent blast in a mosque in the Northwest has taken a heavy toll, although it has missed its target, the former interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao. But neither this one, nor the other suicide attacks on December 9, 10 and 15, which killed civilians with as much impunity as armymen, can be expected to force Mr Musharraf to rethink his magnanimous gesture of lifting the emergency. As for the bomb attack on the convoy of Benazir Bhutto, which took one of the severest tolls ever, it should have entered the annals of history by now.

The much-targeted Mr Sherpao is reputed to have played a decisive role in the cleansing of the Red mosque in Islamabad earlier this year. The embarrassment of those days, which made evident the collusion of the administration in the flourishing growth of an Islamic fundamentalist stronghold in the heart of the capital, is something the president and his men would want desperately to put behind them. They are looking forward to the January elections — in which Mr Sherpao is a prominent candidate — and thereby the establishment of their democratic credentials to wash off past sins. But history, as Pakistan has repeatedly proved, is a tough paymaster. Neither Mr Musharraf nor his loyal former ministers can run away from the error they committed by encouraging radical extremism for their narrow political interests. Already perceived as a sinner against Islam for allying with the West, Mr Musharraf inspired a jihad against himself when he undertook the Lal Masjid operation. For the neo-taliban in his territory, the president and his loyalists have done nothing since then to deserve a revision in the objective of that holy war. As Pakistan gets closer to its desired goal of a democratic future, in tandem with the wishes of the West, this passion is likely to be heightened.

Pakistan, in fact, could witness more turbulent times in the coming days. Given the unrestricted flow of hawala money into the border regions that fund the stockpiling of arms, the increasing consolidation of links between the Pakistan taliban and al Qaida, the play of religious passion among the predominantly tribal and backward population in the country’s Northwest could take on alarming proportions. The fluid political situation, with its ill-defined hierarchy and administrative order, can only do further damage in this scenario. It is in the best interests of Pakistan’s president, his army, the country’s political elite, and, above all, its people, who are the worst sufferers, that the political movement towards democracy reaches its fruition.

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