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Missiles herald Pakistani election

Will Pakistani missile tests boost support for pro-Musharraf candidates in Thursday's election?

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Most world leaders probably wouldn't consider testing nuclear-capable missiles as a constructive way to stir up political enthusiasm ahead of national elections. But in Pakistan, two recent missile tests illuminate multiple political goals.

In a poor country where most people are uneducated and also staunchly proud of their nuclear-weapons program, rattling the saber at arch-rival India is always a good way to bring out the voters.

President Pervez Musharraf, the Army chief who took power in a 1999 coup, isn't running in the parliamentary and regional assembly elections that take place Thursday, the first since 1997. He already won a five-year presidential term in an April referendum that critics charged was rigged in his favor.

The general is under pressure to lend democratic legitimacy to his government, but preelection surveys indicate many Pakistanis are skeptical about voting in the current political climate. What better way to stir political passions, say analysts, than displaying Pakistan's nuclear firepower.

Last Friday, amid renewed tension with India over disputed Kashmir, Pakistan test-fired medium-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Within a few hours, India responded with a missile test of its own.

Yesterday, Pakistan performed the second missile test in a week.

The tests are seen as a message to the Pakistani people – and to India – that Musharraf will remain hawkish on Kashmir – the Himalayan state which both countries claim – despite his often contradictory role as an ally in the US war on terror.

Though Pakistan supported Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban government for most of its time in power, Musharraf abruptly switched allegiance after the Sept. 11 attacks, assisting the US military effort in Afghanistan.

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