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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 15:46 GMT
Analysis: Musharraf on a tightrope
Policemen in truck
Pakistan has arrested a large number of militants
By Owais Tohid of the BBC Urdu Service

Only a few months ago, every village and town in Pakistan was awash with graffiti glorifying holy war.

Religious groups were openly recruiting young people and calling for donations.

A new cause was found in Kashmir
Now the offices stand empty, their leaders arrested or fearing arrest.

Some have even renamed their groups.

And all this brought about by none other than Pakistan's army ruler.

President Pervez Musharraf has launched a campaign to marginalise these groups which previously were believed to have enjoyed support from Pakistan's army.

During the anti-Soviet Afghan War, Muslim militant groups were empowered by the state, gained world approval, and secured access to resources.

Finding a cause

Then another "cause" was found in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The tracks to the Kashmir Valley passed through Pakistan.

There is risk involved as these extremists see him [President Musharraf] as a puppet of America and Western powers

Kashmir has always been a pivot for Pakistan's foreign policy.

Where interests coincided, the state extended its support to these groups.

Islamabad has always termed its support as "moral and diplomatic", but many have seen this relationship with a lot of suspicion.

The suspicion grew stronger when Kashmiri activists fought on the frontlines during the Kargil conflict against Indian forces in 1999.

That dispute almost triggered a war between the two hostile nuclear powers of South Asia.

New pressures

Being a key ally in the US-led international coalition against terrorism, Pakistan now came under tremendous pressure.

First, the US demanded support during the Afghan crisis and then demanded action against militant groups when the Indian parliament building was attacked.

F-14 plane
The US wanted support for its war against terror
Delhi blamed two Kashmiri groups, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, for the attack.

Observers described President Musharraf's decision to crack down on these and other groups as "bold and courageous."

"No doubt the problem is huge and the effort seems to be small. But this is a first step to control extremist groups by Musharraf ," Pakistani analyst Kamran Khan says.

"There is risk involved as these extremists see him as a puppet of America and Western powers.

"If India responds positively, Musharraf could take further action. But it would become difficult for him to deal with internal problems especially when there is tension on the borders." he says.

Delicate task

Even those in Pakistan who praise General Musharraf for his actions against religious extremism are well aware that it will not be an easy task.

Kashmir is a sensitive issue for many Pakistanis.

Parliament attack
India blamed militants for the attack on parliament
The Pakistani leader knows that dealing with Kashmiri groups is very tricky.

Extremist groups have been operating with immunity throughout the country and have made inroads within Pakistani society.

Anti-US fervour is high, as is sentiment against India.

Any concession to either country would be perceived as a betrayal.

General Musharraf has to deal with both internal and external forces, accommodate international pressure and still show independent decision-making.

This is all the more difficult as he did not come to power through the electoral process and although faced only limited opposition, he has no real mandate.

Dealing with Kashmir in the current climate is like walking a tightrope.

President Musharraf will want to walk as slowly as he safely can.

See also:

04 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan rounds up militants
21 Dec 01 | Americas
More groups join US terror blacklist
20 Dec 01 | South Asia
India rebuffs evidence request
13 Dec 01 | South Asia
India attack prompts crackdown
14 Dec 01 | South Asia
Violent 'army of the pure'
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