On 60th anniversary of independence, Pakistanis question their country's direction
President Musharraf promised political stability and a course that's driven by national, not American, interests.
Celebrations of Pakistan's 60th year of independence have been clouded by violence and escalated threats from extremist groups. Coming amid an extended period of demonstrations and political tensions, the anniversary has inspired some Pakistanis to question their country's direction.
On Monday, the day before independence events, a roadside bomb in North West Frontier Province left four civilians dead and government forces battled with militants along the Afghan border following attacks on government checkpoints. Further, last month's siege against the Red Mosque has led violent, antidemocracy groups to assert themselves even more, reports The Independent.
"The current situation is bad because of this dictatorship [President Musharraf], our loss of sovereignty, and the destruction of state institutions," said Imran Khan, the former cricket captain and MP [member of parliament] who will be speaking at a rally of opposition parties in Rawalpindi today.
Pakistanis could engage in only limited celebrations both because of high security warnings and heavy rains. President Musharraf, who has recently fallen in popularity, promised that this year's elections will bring "political stability" to Pakistan, reports CNN-IBN, a joint Indian-CNN television network.
"This political stability will be a continuation of the progress, which Pakistan is making now, and it will take us towards further improvements. This is all for the benefit of the public. And all these things, which we will achieve, God willing, will be for the benefit of the people. The welfare of the public is ultimately the responsibility of government," Musharraf said.
Saying that terrorism and extremism were Pakistan's largest challenges, the president called for the entire nation to "[rise] against them." He used the holiday to address concerns that, while he is a close ally of US President George W. Bush, his antiterrorism policies are driven by national interests, not US needs, reports the Daily Times, a Pakistani English language paper.
"We are not fighting terrorism and extremism for the sake of America, but we are confronting this menace in our own interest," the president said in response to a question in a special television programme called 'From Aiwan-e-Sadr'.
"Our policy is pro-Pakistan...I strongly believe that Pakistan comes first," he said. "I do not blindly pursue policies of others and see everything from Pakistan's point of view."
Musharraf's original plan – to work with tribes in North West Frontier Province along the Afghan border and rout out terrorist elements – failed. Militants there have increased in strength, and intelligence reports indicate that prominent terrorists may be operating or hiding in the region. US presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois made waves when he indicated his support for military incursions into the region with or without Pakistan's support. Such remarks have angered a number of Pakistanis. During an independence-day address, Musharraf refuted the remarks as unofficial "saber rattling," reports the British Broadcasting Corp.
"I am 200% sure that these [comments] are neither at official nor at government level," he said. Gen Musharraf said al-Qaeda and other militant organisations using Pakistan's border areas posed a threat to the country that must be tackled.
Pakistan's prime minister, too, has spoken out against possible military strikes in Pakistan without Islamabad's consent, reports Reuters. US politicians accuse Pakistan of not doing enough to deal with the threat of Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban forces inside the nation's borders.
"I want to make it clear that not under any circumstances will we allow any foreign power to enter Pakistan's territory," Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said at a traditional flag-hoisting ceremony in the capital Islamabad to mark Independence Day.
On the country's birthday, Pakistani officials seemed determined to showcase military might. During an address to a group of politicians, schoolchildren, and other Pakistanis, Prime Minister Aziz declared that Pakistan should take pride in being the only Muslim country with a nuclear arsenal, reports England's The Daily Telegraph.
"Our nuclear assets are symbols of our national honor and sovereignty," Aziz said.