Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pakistan : More Than 90 Killed As Shiites And Sunnis Go To War

Musharraf Warns Pakistan Nukes Could Fall Into "The Wrong Hands" If January Elections Are "Chaotic"

While President Musharraf tightens the noose of his military dictatorship around the people of Pakistan's largest cities, in the tribal border lands, full scale war is now breaking out between rival Muslim sects in the northwest.

Rival Sunni and Shiite Muslims clashed Sunday in a northwestern Pakistan town where three days of sectarian violence has left 91 people _ most of them civilians _ dead, officials said. The military said it was sending forces to the area to quell the fighting.

Both sides fired mortars and other heavy weapons at each other in the town of Parachinar late Saturday and early Sunday, targeting residential areas and hitting mosques, an intelligence official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Violence between Shiites and Sunnis is common in Parachinar, the main town in the Kurram tribal area. In April, clashes between the two sects, sparked by an attack on a Shiite mosque, left about 50 people dead.

The latest clashes in Parachinar began Friday after gunmen opened fire on a Sunni mosque and Sunnis retaliated by attacking Shiites, police said.

About 80 percent of Pakistan's 160 million people are Sunni Muslims. While most members of the sects coexist peacefully, extremists often target each other's leaders and activists. The Sunni-Shiite schism over the true heir to Islam's Prophet Muhammad dates back to the seventh century.

The military said it was deploying an unspecified number of soldiers and members of Pakistan's Frontier Constabulary paramilitary force to Parachinar, which is located in Pakistan's remote tribal areas where government authority is limited.

The military said in a statement that 80 civilians and 11 security personnel have been killed, adding that the dead had been "targeted by both sides."

Twenty-two bodies remained unclaimed at the main state-run hospital in Parachinar, a doctor there said on condition of anonymity, citing policy. More than 100 people were injured, he said.

Pakistan's President Musharraf is resisting US pressure to wind back his 'emergency rule', or martial law as it's more commonly known, but is claiming January elections will still go ahead. Martial law is needed, says Musharraf, because if the elections turn out to be "chaotic", Pakistan's nukes could fall into the hands of extremists :

Musharraf said that if elections were held in a "disturbed environment," it could bring in dangerous elements who might pose a risk to control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

"They cannot fall into the wrong hands, if we manage ourselves politically. The military is there -- as long as the military is there, nothing happens to the strategic assets, we are in charge and nobody does anything with them," he said.

Musharraf, who took power in a coup eight years ago, cited rising Islamist militancy and a hostile judiciary as reasons for declaring emergency rule. He has said a general election will be held before January 9 and he expects to step down as army chief and be sworn in as a civilian president beforehand.

He promised that political opponents would be released from house arrest "in a few days" but said he was considering all options regarding holding elections under emergency rule.

Bush & Musharraf's Close Ties Forged After 9/11 Now Liability For Both Leaders

Musharraf Rejects US Demands To End 'Emergency Rule'

Musharraf Shut Down Non-State Media, Jailed Opposition, Threatens Dissenters With Jail, But US Calls Him A Positive Force "Against Extremism"

US Secretly Aids Pakistan In Securing Its Nuclear Arsenal - But Admits It Doesn't Know Where All The Nukes Are?