Pakistan faces ruling coalition collapse

ISLAMABAD -- The collapse of Pakistan's ruling coalition after a key party's defection complicates efforts to tackle problems facing this nuclear-armed nation already grappling with widespread poverty and insurgent attacks.

The renewed political turmoil bodes ill for military action against Muslim extremists that the U.S. believes is key to success in neighboring Afghanistan, analysts said.

Pakistan's powerful army could use the lack of political consensus to avoid operations that clash with its perceived strategic interests.

The crisis also all but guarantees that lawmakers will not make progress anytime soon on fixing Pakistan's deep-seated problems in areas like education, health care and infrastructure that have contributed to economic decline and rising militancy.

"There is no electricity, no gas, no jobs and they are fighting one another," said Arif Fasiullah, 35, of the central city of Multan.

"They do not pass any legislation. They just do dirty politics."

Pakistan, with a population of more than 180 million, faces chronic power outages that can last up to 16 hours per day in some areas during the scorching summer, and up to a third of its people lack access to clean drinking water.

Average income per capita is less than $3,000, and the average adult has fewer than five years of schooling.

The International Monetary Fund, which has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars in loans to keep its economy afloat, has demanded the country implement significant reforms, including deep cuts to its deficit.

The assistance took on added importance after last year's massive floods that affected some 20 million people.

But the economic reforms, notably a revised general sales tax, are unpopular and have given the opposition and other parties a focus for their complaints.

The shift in the political landscape, which ended the coalition's majority in parliament, was not expected to lead to the fragile government's imminent collapse.

But analysts warned that Pakistan's army may use the crisis as yet another reason to delay launching an operation against militants in the country's North Waziristan tribal area who regularly attack foreign troops in Afghanistan.

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