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Bhutto Claims Army, Diverted to Protests, Losing Fight Against Extremists

Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, has said President Musharraf is losing his battle against Islamic extremists in the tribal areas such as Waziristan and Swat Valley. She says he is diverting the army to enforce emergency rule and arrest opposition activists. Meanwhile, experts say General Musharraf's crackdown on the private television media could endanger the government itself. VOA 's Ravi Khanna reports.

The emergency rule in Pakistan has triggered widespread street protests. The government has been using the Army, along with police and paramilitary forces, to quell the demonstrations. Some analysts assert, because of that, the Army is too distracted to fight Islamic insurgency in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Farooq Hasnat, a scholar of Pakistani origin at the Middle East Institute in Washington, says that General Musharraf has weakened the army and hurt its morale by using it for his political agenda.

"It seems that because the army has been involved so much in the civilian affairs that the army has lost some of its professionalism,” says Hasnat. “We witnessed that when the army went in Waziristan (to fight against pro-Taliban militants). We saw that 1,000 soldiers were killed. In Swat also their performance was less than desired."

Hasnat says he believes there is dissension in the army over General Musharraf's crackdown. "There must be certain groups who might not agree with General Musharraf's policy vis-a-vis clamp down on his own people and the way he came harsh -- the manner in which he violated human rights of the Pakistani public."

The clampdown includes a ban on all private TV channels, a sector of the economy that was growing fast. Some say that hurts the economy. President Musharraf said he shut down the media because it was feeding extremism and hurting the security of the country.

Caroline Wadhams of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress does not agree. "He is cracking down on the media because the media has actually shown increasing criticism of General Musharraf and they have been telling the real story in Pakistan. And he does not want that story to be heard," she says.

Pakistani journalists demonstrate daily; reporters and editors, along with some experts, saying the crackdown was all part of a plan by General Musharraf's advisors to establish total control over the country.

But Walter Andersen, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based School of Advanced International Studies says it is not going to work. "If we can't have legitimate news then exaggerated news often takes its place. And that could be dangerous as well to the administration and the government in power."

Andersen says that restoring democracy could work to President Musharraf's own benefit because it would be more stabilizing, a circumstance he says Benazir Bhutto and others also want.

"They have that in common, if they could only cooperate now with each other against what is the common threat. And the common threat I think is two fold, militancy is one and poverty is the other," he adds.

General Musharraf has said he wants to hold the elections before January 9th and the state of emergency will continue indefinitely. But the analysts say elections cannot be free and fair until the emergency is lifted and the judiciary restored.