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Musharraf ally threatens to quit Pak coalition

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement threatened to quit the coalition if a military crackdown in Balochistan province was not halted.

world Updated: Jan 13, 2006 21:25 IST

A key party allied to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf threatened on Sunday to quit the ruling coalition if a military crackdown in troubled Balochistan province was not halted by Friday.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) wants the government to use talks to settle the problems it faces with restive tribes and groups seeking more autonomy for the southwestern province.

"If the government does not stop the current military operation in Balochistan by January 13, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement will pull out of the government in protest on January 14," an MQM statement said.

The Pakistani military launched a major crackdown against militants in Balochistan after a rocket attack on December 14 during a visit by President Pervez Musharraf.

Baloch nationalists say almost 200 people have been killed in the crackdown. The government has not commented on overall casualties.

Any pull-out from the coalition is unlikely to immediately affect the federal cabinet of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz whose Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and other allies will continue to have a majority in the 342-seat National Assembly.

But political sources said the MQM's withdrawal could result in the dissolution of the PML-led provincial government in Sindh, where the MQM's 42 legislators form the largest block in the 167-seat local assembly.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, speaking on a private Pakistani television network, said the government would try to remove MQM's "reservations" and promised to give a detailed response after consulting Prime Minister Aziz.

There have been a series of rocket attacks and other militant incidents in Balochistan over recent weeks.

Opposition parties accuse the government of using gunship helicopters and air force jets to rocket and bomb civilian targets in Kohlu and Dera Bugti district in northern Balochistan.

But the government says its paramilitary troops are operating only against criminals that it calls "fararis" (absconders).

Baloch nationalists and other groups oppose the government's plan to build a dam across the river Indus.

The MQM, based in Karachi, Pakistan's commercial hub and the capital of the southern province of Sindh, also opposes the Kalabagh dam project that several opposition parties say will mainly benefit the central province of Punjab to the detriment of Pakistan's three other provinces.

First Published: Jan 08, 2006 15:58 IST