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'Musharraf re-election bid may fuel radicalism'

The International Crisis Group says the Pakistan president's efforts to cling to power could pose threats to India, Iran and Afghanistan.

world Updated: Aug 02, 2007 15:13 IST

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's efforts to cling to power could fuel "Islamic radicalism domestically, regionally and beyond," a think tank has warned, indicating threats to India, Iran and Afghanistan.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said "a return to democracy and civilian rule" was the only way out for Pakistan.

"The choice this election year is stark," the Dawn on Thursday quoted Bob Templer, the group's Asia director.

He said in a statement that a return to genuine democracy and civilian rule "offers the prospect of containing extremism", failing which there was danger of "Islamic radicalism" spreading "domestically, regionally and beyond".

All this, ICG said, posed security threats to neighbouring countries including India, Iran and Afghanistan.

If the president tried to rig the elections or proclaims emergency rule, it could lead to street demonstrations and violent clashes with the military, the report added.

Stating that an end of his regime "is a matter of time", ICG said that Musharraf "is showing a dangerous determination to cling to power at all costs".

The survey by the Washington-based International Republican Institute says Musharraf's support base had plummeted sharply by 20 per cent, from 54 per cent in February to 34 per cent, in June this year.

The five-month period covered includes the March 9 suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chahdury that triggered nationwide protests. Chaudhry was last month reinstated by the Supreme Court.

A majority of Pakistanis, 72 per cent, did not approve of Musharraf's action, says the IRI survey.

The poll also showed a rising sense of insecurity in the country, and widespread concern that religious extremism was a serious problem.

The poll was based on interviews with 4,000 randomly selected adults in cities and villages across Pakistan

The survey also covers the period when radical students in seminaries attached to Lal Masjid in Islamabad seized a library in January. Months later, a military assault on the mosque led to more than 100 deaths, triggering suicide attacks on security forces.

Conversely, opposition to his re-election has grown from 40 per cent to 64 per cent, the think tank said.

Musharraf's disapproval rate also went up from 25 per cent to 49 per cent while support for him fell from 54 per cent to 34 per cent.

"Voters are increasingly pessimistic about the economy, their security and the direction of the country," the institute said. "President Musharraf is also personally bearing the brunt of voter anger," the IRI survey said.