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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK
Analysis: Pakistan's tough choice
Protesters in Pakistan
There is vocal opposition in Pakistan to backing US action
By Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad

Pakistan has probably never faced a tougher choice.

Map of Pakistan and neighbouring countries
One the one hand, Islamabad faces irresistible pressure from the United States - an old ally - to support a military strike against Osama Bin Laden.

That pressure, however, is combined with extreme reluctance to abandon Afghanistan's ruling Taleban - an old friend and neighbour.

President Pervez Musharraf is fully aware of the dilemma facing his country.

Last-ditch effort

The high-level delegation he sent to Afghanistan to convince the Taleban to hand over Bin Laden returned home on Tuesday.

Child working at a loom in Pakistan
Some believe outside events force Pakistan's modernisation
The mission was viewed as a last-ditch effort not only to avert a military conflict, but to save the Taleban movement from falling apart.

It is still unclear whether the delegation's trip was worth it.

A Pakistani decision to abandon the Taleban would add to a list of hostile neighbours, currently headed by India and Iran.

Domestic trouble

Aside from its foreign relations, many analysts are convinced the emerging scenario is likely to create considerable political turbulence within Pakistan's borders.

General Musharraf's efforts to persuade the country's political and religious leadership to support an alliance with the United States have only been partially successful.

While most liberal-minded Pakistani politicians have fully backed the government, leaders of some hard-line Islamic parties are deeply unhappy.

Several groups have now threatened to start a countrywide uprising in protest at any US attack on the Taleban.

Although it is not clear how much influence the hardliners exercise over public opinion, observers believe the fallout from any ill-planned operation against Afghanistan would strengthen the religious right in Pakistan.

But there are those who view the present crisis as a golden opportunity to engineer a major shift in Pakistani foreign policy.

For them, the time has come for Pakistan to cease looking for support of its regional policies from extremist Islamic forces.

Instead they see the chance to modernise the country with the direct economic and financial support of the United States.

The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad
"The Taleban are threatening to attack Pakistan if it assists America"
See also:

17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan views possible US retaliation
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
UN prepares for major Afghan crisis
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
15 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan 'will comply' on terror
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