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Pakistan arrests French Al Qaeda leader amid turmoil with prime minister

The arrest of a French national, reportedly linked to the 9/11 mastermind, highlights the challenges Pakistan is facing as it tries to pull itself out of a deepening political crisis. 

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Then in November, US forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani border troops. Pakistan closed supply lines to American and NATO forces in Afghanistan and is demanding an apology from the US.

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The US has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to go after militant groups. During a June 7 visit to Kabul, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the US was losing patience with Pakistan over its failure to go after the Haqqani network, considered one of the most dangerous groups in Afghanistan.

Pakistan says the US does not recognize the price it's paid for taking on militant groups, a battle that has killed tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians and security forces. Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target militants who could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

Political turmoil

On Wednesday, Pakistan's president summoned parliament to meet Friday to elect a new prime minister.

The Supreme Court dismissed Yousuf Raza Gilani along with his Cabinet on Tuesday for his failure to investigate his ally President Asif Ali Zardari for corruption, adding more political instability in a country already saddled with serious economic and security problems. In moving quickly to install a new premier — and not defying the court order as some had predicted — the government may reduce fears of major upheaval.

Zardari's Pakistan People's Party has the largest number of seats in parliament and heads a coalition government.

A government official said that Makhdoom Shahabuddin, the outgoing textile minister, was the likely candidate, as did another member of the ruling PPP. They did not give their names because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Mr. Shahabuddin is from Rahim Yar Khan, a conservative Islamic city in southern Punjab province. He is considered a party loyalist and was known to be close to Zardari's late wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.

Whoever takes over is likely to face a rocky and short ride.

The government must call elections before March next year. Under the constitution, polls can be held only under a neutral caretaker government which must be in place three months before election day. Many analysts have speculated that the current political upheaval may bring the election forward, possibly to November. Elections before that date are considered unlikely because of the fierce summer heat, which makes it difficult to organize and get large numbers of people to the polls.

The new prime minister will also likely run into trouble with the Supreme Court, which is expected to renew its demand for a corruption probe against Zardari. The court has been criticized by some for making political decisions and jeopardizing the democratic setup in Pakistan.

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