Who's Really in Power in Pakistan?

In a crucible of violence, a young and vulnerable Pakistani government is trying to turn President Pervez Musharraf's resignation into a stable democracy in which civilians control the military and provide economic stability.

The fractious coalition represents the third attempt in Paksitan's 62-year history to replace a military rule with a civilian government, and never before have politicians proved they can be less corrupt and more effective than generals.

But this government faces not only unprecedented inflation (nearly 25 percent) and tumultuous politics but also a resurgent Taliban.

On Thursday and Friday, at least four suicide bombers targeted the military, including two that successfully pierced security at the country's largest ammunition factory, to kill at least 67 people.

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"It is an extremely difficult situation. It is a make-or-break situation for Pakistan," says Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political science professor at the Lahore University of Management Studies. "This is about Pakistan's ability to survive as a state."

Pervez Musharraf became unpopular in part because he was seen as doing the United States' bidding in the volatile Northwest Frontier province, where he launched a series of offensives against militants who use the area as a base to attack targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But the current coalition government has been forced to follow many of the same tactics. At first, it made peace with the militants, but the Frontier Corps paramilitary forces continued to be targeted, and the provincial government said it had no choice but to confront an increasingly powerful Taliban.

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As the prime minister's interior adviser put it this week, either the country can hand itself over to the Taliban, or the military can continue to fight. "The war against terrorism is our own war, and it will continue until its logical end," Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilan told reporters this week.

Taliban spokesmen promised to attack the heart of Pakistani authority in retaliation, and over the last few weeks they have proved that, most notably in the dual suicide bombings Thursday inside the Wah Containment, where the country's largest ammunition factory resides.

"They can penetrate anywhere now. That is what they're trying to prove," says retired Gen. Talat Masood, a former secretary of defense and the longest-running chairman of the ammunition factory. He says it was once "the safest and most secure place." But today, the Taliban are "intensifying their attacks, and the frequency is also increasing, and they're becoming sophisticated."

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The United States is worried that the coalition government, which is preoccupied with internal battles and choosing a president, can't withstand internal pressures and will give up the fight against the militants.

It will be even harder to get whatever civilians are in place in Islamabad to focus on terrorism, to focus on insurgency, when they're so focused either on political squabbling or on the question of who will govern Pakistan, says Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

So who are the leading players in the post-Musharraf Pakistan? Here's a handy cheat sheet.

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Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman, Pakistan People's Party

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