by Neil Syson.
PAKISTAN was in the grip of a military coup last night — sparking fears of a new nuclear showdown with India.
Soldiers ousted the Prime Minister and seized control of the capital within hours of their army chief General Pervaiz Musharraf being dramatically sacked in a power struggle.
His troops stormed the state-run radio and TV station in Islamabad and surrounded PM Nawaz Sharif’s home in Lahore. Musharraf soon appeared in total control.
The scenes raised the spectre of the General — who risked war with neighbouring India over a disputed territory — raising the stakes between the nuclear rivals still higher.
India’s army immediately went on “high alert” along the Pakistani border in Kashmir. A spokesman for the Indian government said the coup was “causing grave concern”.
Three people were reported killed as Musharraf’s troops grabbed Islamabad’s airport, raided ministers’ homes and took over key buildings.
Shots were heard in the diplomatic suburb of Margalla.
In Lahore, soldiers in jeeps and trucks took up positions on the main road and at government buildings.
Former PM Benazir Bhutto, now leader of the opposition, said the country was in “a state of civil war.”
The Foreign Office warned Britons trapped in Pakistan to keep a low profile and advised travellers not to go there.
A spokesman added: “Islamabad airport is closed and there have been reports of gunfire around the city.”
The takeover was triggered when Sharif sacked General Musharraf while the military hardman was in Sri Lanka on an official visit. The PM gave no reason, only saying his “retirement” would be with “immediate effect.”
Within hours the General had returned, and was met at the airport by his heavily-armed men. Pakistan’s 130million population was left in the dark as the plug was pulled on TV and radio stations.
But General Musharraf was believed to be preparing an address to the nation.
He is said to have sacked both Sharif and his Cabinet.
A gaping rift between the two men had formed since July when Sharif ordered Musharraf to withdraw militiamen from the Indian territory of Kargil following a bloody two-month border dispute. The forces — supposedly “freedom fighters” — were essentially controlled by Musharraf, hell-bent on taking over the region.
It was feared the conflict could have erupted into all-out war between the two nuclear powers. Some experts now fear the clash could flare again.
General Musharraf’s term as army chief was to end next April when he would have been replaced by Zia Uddin, head of the secret service and a close ally of Sharif.
Pakistan has spent 25 of its 52 years under military rule, but has had an elected government since the 1980s.
The military had been set to launch a campaign disarming religious militants whose running battles have left 30 dead in the last week alone.
Dr Maleeha Lodhi, of Islamabad’s biggest English language newspaper, blamed the coup on Sharif’s “whimsical government”. She said: “Pakistan has seen some of its worst violence in the last few weeks and the economy is in freefall.
“Sharif is totally isolated. To many he was a fascist.
“He had just announced Musharraf would see out his tenure, then he sacked him.
“The people of Pakistan want a good government with law and order, stability and a recovering economy — and they do not care who provides that.”
n Internet address is set to be sold for a world record of £500,000. The business of trading catchy Website addresses, known as 'domains', is booming. And it is about to go through the roof with www.wheretogoinlondon.com giving the buyer an instant passport to tourists around the globe.
The address, which is being advertised on the Net by canny vendor Richard Smith, is believed to have been snapped up by him a year ago for just £50.
But Mr Smith has already received offers from two "well-known multimedia companies" for the prize asset, each close to his massive asking price.
He said: "I envisage a sale will take place sometime within the next two weeks." Mr Smith's ad which quotes the sale price of £500,000, claims the valuable item of "intellectual" property will provide an excellent basis from which to form a 'london tourist / home user' website and information resource.
It adds: "The domain name itself is highly desirable. As 'where to go in london' is what nearly every tourist and visitor to London wants and needs.
"Indeed, there is no other domain name in the world today (nor will there ever be) which can compete with this name, on: RELEVANCY and DESIRABILITY - for a london tourist / home user related website."
Mr Smith admitted trading domain names is a highly speculative enterprise and carries with it a "goldrush" kind of mentality.
He said: "Thousands of individuals, worldwide, have spent their life savings on names, only to discover their names are worthless. I suppose it may be likened to a kind of 'cruel' national lottery!"
But 'wtgi london' was a sure winner as it was one of the most searched for phrases on the internet.
He said: "The name is now as good as sold. Millions of visitors go to London each year and they all want to know the same thing - where to go, when they get there."
Mr Smith said the crucial suffix '.com' was the key to his domain name being so valuable as this is what people around the world use when trying to find a site relating to tourist attractions in London.
He explained: "Other domain names which spell 'wgti london' with varying suffix's such as .net, .co.uk, etc.., are practically worthless.
"The reason being the suffix '.com' denotes a 'top level' - the best - domain name.
"In addition it is the ending tens of thousands of internet users worldwide will use in lieu of an actual domain name to search for a relevant domain name and website under their chosen wording."
The 24-year-old entrepreneur, who is confined to a wheelchair by a horseriding accident four years ago, added companies also understand that "perception" in business is everything and so they invariably have to go for the very best in case it has undesirable ramifications on them.
Unmarried Mr Smith who lives in Peckham South London said a few years ago MTV paid 1 million US dollars in an 'out of court' settelement for 'mtv.com' because they wanted this domain at virtually any cost. He added: "In brief then, domain names ending in '.net', '.co.uk' and all the rest are practically worthless, however good and brief they may appear to be.
"A valuable name needs to have the suffix '.com' and has to be allied to a word or phrase which is extremely popular and searched for in life - and on the internet.
"And when you have one of the best names, and are trying to sell it, you also need luck!"
Mr Smith developed an interest in the Net when his accident left him in bed for months and his parents bought him a computer. He spent hours learning the secrets of the Net and planning his future coups.