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by RAY FLEMING
IT would be comforting if Pakistan did not matter. But it is a country whose well-being and stability is of critical importance to a large part of Asia and to the western countries that have become entangled by accident or design in its troubles. Pakistan has an important role to play in Afghanistan's future, it is in prolonged dispute with India over Kashmir and other matters and although it is nominally a democracy its internal politics are chaotic and it is a hotbed of Islamic intolerance and violence. Also, it possesses nuclear weapons whose security is questionable.

One year ago Pakistan lawyers were protesting in the streets against President Musharraf's unseating of the Chief Justice and the other members of the High Court. Today the same lawyers and others who have joined them are trying to protest in the streets about the failure of the elected prime minister Asif Ali Zardari to keep his promise to restore the Chief Justice and the High Court. The only difference is that Zardari is using outdated legislation to prevent the lawyers from demonstrating and in the Punjab has forced pliant judges to ban Nawaz Sharif, twice a prime minister in the past, from participating in politics.

A couple of weeks ago in this space I asked how long it would be before the Army staged a coup and took over the government of Pakistan, as it has done several times in the past. That time seems to draw ever nearer.