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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Pakistan's president, already unter international pressure to defuse border tensions with India, could face renewed pressure at home from extremist groups and Taliban sympathizers.


Man under pressure - Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf

For Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf, the past few months have been a roller coaster.

The support, both military and financial, he enjoyed from the United States and Great Britain was undermined by often violent riots at home by Jihad-ready militant Islamic groups that considered him a traitor. Now the 59-year-old president is under pressure by world leaders to keep a military escalation with neighboring India from spiraling out of control.

Both countries have been engaging in the largest military build-up on their common border since 1971. India says the root of the escalation has been Pakistan’s refusal to turn over the people India believes is responsible for the December 13 suicide attacks on its parliament that killed 14. Since then, the two armies have been trading sporadic gun and mortar fire across their border.

Blair pushing for political solution

British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with India’s Atel Behari Vajpayee Sunday night and is due in Islamabad on Monday. Observers say Blair, in his new role as the foreign minister if the international coalition against terrorism, will pressure both leaders into finding a political solution to the conflict as soon as possible.

America and Great Britain, which have enjoyed the open air space and military bases of Pakistan during their missions in Afghanistan, need continued stability as they ferret out remaining remnants of the Taliban and Al Queda. World leaders are concerned a fourth war between the neighboring countries and new nuclear powers could turn into a catastrophe.

Musharraf has said that Pakistan is willing to take up talks with India, "at any level, anytime, anywhere." The international community was hoping the South Asian summit, which concluded in Nepal on Sunday, would be such a spot. But despite a handshake between the two leaders, initiated by Musharraf after his speech, the summit failed to produce any concrete progress towards talks.

Under pressure, Musharraf cracks down on extremists

Vajpayee, though stating that India is ready to "walk more than half the distance" to resolving issues with Pakistan, said he refuses to start on that walk until Pakistan does more to fight cross-border terrorism.

Facing pressure from both Blair and US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Musharraf has done just that. In the past week, Pakistani police have arrested more than 300 suspected members of Islamic extremist groups. Among those in custody are the supposed leaders of Lashkar-e-Taliba and Jaish-e-Muhammed, the two groups India says is responsible for the suicide attacks.

But Musharraf has refused to turn over the 20 accused of plotting the attacks until India provides evidence. The groups, meanwhile, have continued business, moving their headquarters to the Pakistan-administered region of Kashmir.