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Rising violence tests Musharraf

Pakistan's president may strengthen his grip by exploiting recent attacks in Islamabad and the tribal areas, but the opposition wants elections.

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In the week since the siege at the Red Mosque left at least 100 religious students dead in Pakistan's capital, a series of violent attacks appears to have emboldened the militant and political opposition to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

The latest guerrilla assault on a Pakistani military convoy, which left at least 17 soldiers dead in North Waziristan Wednesday, follows a string of daily attacks on Pakistan's security forces in the restive northwestern tribal regions. The spike in antigovernment violence in northwestern Pakistan follows the breakdown of a peace agreement between the government and local Taliban leaders in the tribal areas, which had been in effect since September 2006.

While it's not clear whether the sources are the same, the rising violence in Pakistan's hinterlands reached Islamabad on Tuesday night, when a suicide bomber killed 17 people in a central Islamabad marketplace.

Pakistan's suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was scheduled to speak there to a crowd of some 10,000 lawyers and political activists who had gathered in opposition to the military rule of Mr. Musharraf.

The bombing left 17 dead and dozens wounded, and the city, which was just recovering from the carnage of the Red Mosque siege last week, in tragic shock.

"Whoever the planners are behind this, their aim was to create turmoil in Pakistan," says Rasul Baksh Rais, a political analyst at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Mr. Rais suspects the bombing was sponsored by Al Qaeda and aimed at pushing Pakistan toward anarchy of the kind that "prevails in Iraq or Afghanistan," at a time when the Pakistani economy is booming and the country has massive potential to move forward.

Musharraf's spokesman says the president has ruled out the option of declaring a state of emergency.

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