Pakistani PM calls for united front

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Yousuf Raza Gillani, Pakistan’s prime minister, has called for a conference of political parties and opposition leaders to be held on Tuesday to discuss a united response to the Mumbai terror attacks.

This comes as key Pakistani opposition leaders are arguing that President Asif Ali Zardari’s government needs to take a tougher line against India after the country’s officials blamed a Pakistani militant group for the attacks on Mumbai.

“The government in Pakistan is feeling very unnerved right now. Part of their challenge is the sheer fear of the unknown,” said Arif Nizami, editor of The Nation, a mainstream Pakistani newspaper. “The political fallout depends eventually on what is the exact aftermath of Mumbai.”

Pakistani government officials in Islamabad said one of the objectives of Tuesday’s meeting would be to demonstrate to party leaders that Pakistan’s civilian government and the powerful military were on the same side. This is important for a country where the generals have ruled for more than half its 61-year life as an independent state and where the military is still believed to wield strong influence on policy matters.

Pakistani officials have urged India to work in a co-operative way rather than seeking revenge through measures such as limited air strikes inside Pakistan, targeting suspected militant sites.

But many opposition leaders want a more hardline approach. “Just because one of the gunmen in Mumbai says he came from Pakistan, and he possibly made this statement under duress, doesn’t prove that Pakistan was involved,” said Chaudhary Parvez Elahi, leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam group. “We need to be united but we can’t accept all these wild allegations lying down.”

Siddique-ul-Farooq, a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, which was until recently allied to Mr Zardari, said: “There has to be a determined push from our side to not succumb to India’s blackmail but also keep the conciliation going.”

But analysts warned Pakistan’s internal political conditions were set to worsen even if the countries go through a potentially difficult period in their relations without a further escalation through a military encounter.

The fragile economy, recently bailed out through a $7.6bn (€6bn, £4.9bn) loan from the International Monetary Fund, is not likely to improve the climate for investment during a period of high tensions between India and Pakistan.

●The Taliban on Monday vowed to seize control of Pakistan if the governement did not drop its support for the presence of Nato troops in Afghanistan.

Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, believed to be the right-hand man of Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban chief, said his group would take over Peshawar, Hangur and eventually the whole of Pakistan.

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