msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/5/2007 3:35:35 PM ET 2007-11-05T20:35:35

Pakistan has been wracked by protests and bombings since President Pervez Musharraf tried to sack the head of the Supreme Court earlier this year. In October, 2007, Musharraf was reelected president under controversial terms. The Supreme Court was set to rule on the legitimacy of the vote when Musharraf imposed emergency rule, suspending the constitution and sending military personnel into the streets. A January vote is supposed to transform the nuclear power into a civilian-led democracy.

Who is Musharraf?
Musharraf was born into a middle-class Muslim family in India in August 1943. His family moved to the newly created majority-Muslim state of Pakistan following India's independence and partition in 1947. Musharraf entered the Pakistan Military Academy in 1961 and first saw action in the 1965 war against India. He had to endure the army's defeat by India in the 1971 war and served for seven years in Pakistan's special service commando group.

How did Musharraf come into power?
Promoted to the rank of general and named army chief in October 1998, Musharraf seized power from then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999 in a bloodless coup. He first led the country as chief executive and then won a five-year presidential term in a 2002 referendum critics say was rigged.

What are the main opposition groups in Pakistan?
Demonstrations so far have been limited largely to activists, rights workers and lawyers. All of the demonstrations have been quickly and sometimes brutally stamped out. Musharraf also faces dissent from militant Islamic groups who have carried out a wave of bombings and attacks that are believed to have killed at least 800 people.

Who is Benazir Bhutto?
Bhutto is a former prime minister of Pakistan who remains a major player in the country’s politics. She returned to Pakistan in October from self-imposed exile after Musharraf, with whom she had been negotiating over Pakistan's transition to civilian-led democracy, granted her protection from prosecution in old corruption cases. Bhutto was born into a wealthy landowning family in 1953. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, founded the Pakistan People's Party and was president and later prime minister of Pakistan from 1971 to 1977.

What is at stake for the United States?
The United States has given billions of dollars of aid to Pakistan since 9/11 in the hope that Musharraf, one of President Bush's most important non-NATO allies in the war on terrorism, can save Pakistan's moderate Muslim majority from militant, religious extremism. Pakistan’s tribal regions, a remote area where some intelligence analysts believe Osama bin Laden resides, are a hotbed of radical Islam. The United States had been hoping a deal between Bhutto and Musharraf would lend new legitimacy to his government and ultimately restore democracy in Pakistan.

Where is Pakistan, how big is it, when was it founded?
Pakistan, whose official name is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, was created in 1947 at the time of the partition of British India. It was brought into being to create a separate homeland for India's Muslims. Pakistan, a nation of roughly 160 million people, is bordered on the southeast by India, the northeast by China, the west by Iran and the north by Afghanistan.

Information gathered from The Associated Press, Reuters and CFR.

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