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Pakistan on the Brink

UPDATE - Hundreds of soldiers surrounding the Red Mosque in Islamabadand are preparing to storm the mosque after a standoff thathas lasted since the mosque was isolated by troops lastTuesday. Since then, at least 21 people have been killed inthe siege, which started when members of the radical mosquekidnapped seven Chinese whom they accused of running abrothel. There are believed to be 1,800 people in themosque, led by Abdul Rashid Ghazi. He has said that hisfollowers will commit suicide rather than allow themselvesto be captured, and expressed the hope that their deathswould spark an Islamic revolution in relatively secularPakistan. Keep reading for an update on this story.

The government of Pakistan's President Musharraf attemptedto negotiate with the protesters through loudspeakers onMonday, without success. Additional negotiations under waynow are being described by the chief negotiator as a "lastditch effort," and he has said that "the option of force"will be used if they fail. Despite the heavy militarypresence around the mosque, the people inside are heavilyarmed. About a thousand of thepeople inside the mosque have left since security forcessurrounded it.

As Pakistan's Supreme Court examined whether or not thesiege was legal under the Pakistani Constitution, Pakistan'sReligious Affairs Minister said up to 250 militants,including at least 5 hard core terrorists with links to AlQuaeda, were in the mosque.

Unrest by Moslem fundamentalists is now widespread inPakistan, and the question of whether or not the Musharrafgovernment will survive the siege, whatever its outcome,remains an open one. Should it fall, no government that islikely to replace it will be as friendly to the UnitedStates, or to the NATO presence in Afghanistan. Without anactive Pakistani military presence on the Afghan border,there is likely to be far more instability in Afghanistan.

UPDATE: According to BBC News, the head of US forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, says that fighting the insurgency is a "long term endeavor" which could take decades. The unrest in Pakistan could adversely affect our ability to wage war in Iraq, since Musharraf has been one of the few Middle Eastern supporters of this war.

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