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India concerned over Pakistan developments

By Manish Chand, IANS 

New Delhi : India is closely watching the volatile situation in Pakistan, triggered by a tense faceoff between the government and radical elements in the influential Lal Masjid, with officials and experts saying that on its outcome may well hinge the future of President Pervez Musharraf.

"We are keeping a watch on the situation in Pakistan. We are concerned about the Lal Masjid incident, especially as it concerns radical elements in that country, some of whom are opposed to the peace process with India," official sources told IANS.

"What's going on in Lal Masjid has serious political implications. It's a high-risk operation. If it goes off successfully for Musharraf, it could lead to the declaration of emergency which in turn could lead to the postponement of polls," G. Parthasarathy, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, told IANS.

The standoff between the mosque students and the security forces surrounding the Lal Masjid seminary located in the heart of the Pakistani capital has killed 21 and injured over 150 in over 24 hours since the clash erupted Tuesday afternoon.

"It's too early to say. We have to wait and watch," said Parthasarathy when asked how this open clash between the military-led government and Lal Masjid clerics will affect the survival of Musharraf.

"There have been military rulers in Pakistan and they have faced many crises. But this is perhaps more challenging than what other rulers have faced," said K. Subrahmanyam, who heads the prime minister's task force on global strategic developments.

"Musharraf's position is becoming difficult. The next few days are going to be critical for him," Subrahmanyam said.

Agrees S.D. Muni, South Asia expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University. "The situation is grim and extremely volatile, to say the least. Musharraf has come under pressure.

"This is one section he had tried to soft-pedal in the past. Two of the new Lal Masjid leaders are known to have pro-Taliban sympathies. The Lal Masjid people have the power to destabilise Pakistan," said Muni.

Does continuing instability in Pakistan spell bad news for the peace process between India and Pakistan?

"The more Musharraf becomes fragile and his grip over power tenuous, the more he will be preoccupied with domestic problems and to that extent the peace process gets affected in an adversarial manner," Muni told IANS.

The Lal Masjid violence coincided with home secretary-level talks between the two countries on issues like terrorism and drug-trafficking with Pakistani Home Secretary Syed Kamal Shah having to cut short his visit to New Delhi due to the escalating crisis back home.

Musharraf was already in the firing line from civil society activists protesting against his suspension of Chief Justice Iftekhar Choudhary. Now he has hostile hardline clerics of Lal Masjid targeting his government.

Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, two former prime ministers, are eyeing a comeback from their exile and emerge as alternatives to the military ruler whose position is becoming increasingly shaky after eight years in power.