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Pakistan's Zardari criticized over U.S. alliance, insurgency and shortages

After that date, the Supreme Court, led by the iconoclastic chief justice whose reinstatement Zardari fought to prevent, could declare his election illegal and reopen cases against him and some of his aides. Even though he will probably not be sent back to prison, the specter of prosecution could deal Zardari a fatal political blow, leaving leaders scrambling to form a new government in the middle of a war against terrorism.

"It is clear the cases will be reopened eventually, but corruption is not the real issue," said Athar Minallah, a lawyer and former aide to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. "The president should never be removed illegally, but if we are to build a stable Pakistan, we need to reestablish the rule of law and the constitution."

The other major strike against Zardari is the public perception that he is too close to the United States.

Despite generous U.S. aid offers and the bilateral thaw that followed the return of civilian government, many Pakistanis are convinced the United States wants to take over their country and use the anti-terrorism effort as an excuse to seize its nuclear arsenal.

"There is a lot of suspicion and antagonism," said Hussain, the professor. "Zardari needs to get out and tell people that the government wants democracy, but not one that is subservient to American interests."

Wahab said she was stunned at the ferocious domestic criticism of the U.S. aid package, which would give Pakistan $7.5 billion over five years. She said that Zardari had worked hard to win international aid for Pakistan, and that his dream is to build an economy that could compete with India's and China's. "A lot of good things have happened in these 18 months," she said, "but no one ever talks about them."

Yet Pakistanis interviewed last week, from students to shopkeepers to retirees, complained that the Zardari government has not delivered relief from any of the country's major problems. All said they had lost the hope they had felt when military rule was replaced by a civilian government.

"Prices keep going up and bombs keep going off, but our leaders don't seem to care," said Jamal Hassan, 26, who sells socks in a bazaar. "Everyone thought Zardari would become a changed person and a mature politician, but he didn't change and he didn't deliver. We don't want dictatorship back, but since then everything has gotten worse."

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