. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Facing Strife, Musharraf Seeks to Bolster Support

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Faced with Islamic religious movements protesting in the streets, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is reaching out to secular political parties and may invite them into his military-led government, analysts and reports said.

The moves appear aimed at broadening Musharraf's base as the general faces growing outcries against his backing of the U.S. air campaign against Afghanistan.

Musharraf is conferring this week with leading political parties that have been largely sidelined since the general came to power two years ago in a coup.

Musharraf's aides say the current talks are limited to consultations on the Afghanistan crisis. The Pakistani president has sided with the United States and abandoned his country's previous support for the ruling Taliban, a move that has angered Pakistan's religious parties.

"Nothing has been happening behind the curtain," said government spokesman Rashid Quereshi, who insisted Wednesday that no changes in the makeup of the government were planned.

However, The News, an English-language daily, said Musharraf intends to ask political leaders to join his government, currently run by military men and civilians not affiliated with political parties.

"President Musharraf has taken a very big risk by siding with the United States, and I think he's now trying to broaden the base of his government," said political analyst Khwaja Masud.

Musharraf has been broadly popular since taking power, and remains firmly in control, according to Masud and other analysts. He has promised elections in October 2002 that would restore the country to civilian rule.

"I would say that President Musharraf is managing very well so far," said Talat Masood, a retired general and political commentator. "But he is under pressure and if the [Afghanistan] campaign continues for too long, the pressures will intensify."

The country's leading political parties, including the Pakistan Peoples' Party, led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, now in exile, and the former ruling Pakistan Muslim League, have endorsed Musharraf's decision to join the global coalition against terrorism.

However, their support has been overshadowed by religious parties, who have rallied thousands of demonstrators for noisy street protests denouncing Musharraf and backing the Taliban. Bloody clashes with the security forces have erupted on several occasions.

Religious parties have threatened to launch a campaign of civil disobedience next week if the president doesn't renounce his backing for the U.S. campaign.

Pakistan religious movements have never done well in elections, where the country's 145 million people have consistently chosen secular leaders and parties. Still, the religious groups have required Musharraf to move cautiously or risk a backlash.

If he or his government stumbles, it could limit Musharraf's ability to openly cooperate with the U.S. campaign. Pakistan is currently allowing the Americans to use two airbases in southern Pakistan, though the U.S. aircraft are not permitted to take part in combat operations.

While many Pakistanis support the government's position, there is also strong public sympathy for the Afghan people, who have suffered through more than 20 years of war.

Armed Pakistani tribesmen began removing roadblocks on the fabled Karakoram Highway on Wednesday after agreeing to end a protest against Islamabad's support of U.S. attacks on the Taliban, witnesses and officials said.

The government, reluctant to take action against the hundreds of armed tribesmen perched on hilltops and beside the Karakoram Highway that snakes along the ancient Silk Road, had sent delegates to persuade them to end the blockade, which had entered its seventh day Wednesday.