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Musharraf's hot seat

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    Musharraf's hot seat

    The reaction of the Western press and the US government in criticising Musharraf's demi coup misses the driving force in Musharraf's decision to become president. While personal ambition may have something to do with this decision, Pakistan's situation economically and diplomatically is rather bleak. The economic problems confronting the country, and how they affect national policies have been discussed in lengthy analyses in the Dawn here and here.

    Musharraf must attempt to reverse this apparent relative decline in Pakistan's fortunes and for that he has to have regional peace, which includes resolution of Kashmir. But to do this he has to maintain control over two powerful groups in Pakistan, the fundamentalist religious brotherhoods and the army.

    The reaction of the fundamentalists was an actual front page item on Tehelka on the 21st, citing:

    Qazi Hussain Ahmad, told tehelka.com in an exclusive interview, "Pakistan is not a true-Islamic state...Every Pakistani is a jehadi when it comes to restoring Kashmiris' rights." Qazi says that the Jamaat will continue to fight for the "restoration of democracy" in Pakistan and will use all means, "including mosques and madarsas, to oppose General Musharraf".

    But the Times of India cites the demi coup as a master stroke, at once giving Musharraf diplomatic options as well as strategically robbing his fundamentalist opposition of legitimacy. Moreover, the ToI also alludes to Musharraf's military support, whose fidelity question hangs over his head like Damocles' sword. Musharraf just months ago came to power in a coup against another civilian leader and armed military resistance. Formalising his position as a civilian head of state when he was due to retire in October pre events any possibility of another civilian head of state, in a surprise move, retiring him into obscurity like Stalin retired Marshall Zhukov after WW II.

    What is Musharraf going to do with this flexibility implied by his new role? I'd bet that he makes a dramatic move to make peace with India and seek to eliminate the US sanctions imposed on Pakistan after its nuclear testing. He also might well call elections next year under a reformed constitution which gives him Augusto Pinochet like powers after that election. When confronted by this objective improvement in the subcontinent's diplomatic atmosphere, both the US and New Delhi may well accomodate the Musharraf regime's internal policies. The one black storm cloud in this prediction is Pakistan's prior history of military incompetence in administering the government. Musharraf will have to break that tradition to succeed.

    ------------------
    Stand upright, speak thy thought, declare,
    The truth thou hast that all may share,
    Be bold, proclaim it everywhere,
    They only live who dare.
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