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Benazir sees Taliban threat

March 18, 2007

NEW YORK, March 17: Taliban must be defeated in Pakistan this year or the country risks falling under the sway of extremists much as Afghanistan did before Sept 11, 2001, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto said on Friday.

Ms Bhutto, who hopes to return from exile and run for prime minister again in elections this year, also warned that the judicial crisis gripping Pakistan could spin out of control and underscores the importance of restoring civilian rule.

“They (the Taliban) have actually established a mini-state in the tribal areas of Pakistan. My fear is that if these forces are not stopped in 2007, they are going to try to take on the state of Pakistan itself,” Ms Bhutto told Reuters in an interview. “In my view it is a genuine threat,” she said.

Other commentators have warned of the dangers to Pakistan of a resurgent Taliban, which was routed from power in Afghanistan by the US invasion following the Sept 11 attacks.

Ms Bhutto said the Taliban comeback was particularly dire because President Gen Pervez Musharraf was unable to suppress elements of the Pakistani security forces that remain sympathetic to Taliban.

President Musharraf also has been exploiting the presence of the extreme Islamist movement as a rationale for maintaining his military rule beyond general elections due before the end of 2007, she said and added: “Gen Musharraf does say that he wants to go after terrorists, that he wants to go after the forces that support the Taliban, but he’s unable to do it.”

She said: “The people in the areas must see that it is in their benefit to kick out the extremist forces.”To that end she proposes a renewed commitment to health, education and infrastructure in tribal areas. In the absence of government welfare, Islamist religious schools have stepped in, winning over the poor population, she said.

On crisis created by ouster of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, she said: “The judicial crisis highlights that if you don’t bring about a peaceful political transfer that events could get out of control because there is a lot of frustration.”—Reuters