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Musharraf is losing Pakistan
The president's grab for another five years of power has backfired

Newsday (Pakistan)
March 29, 2007
By Ahmed Rashid
Across Pakistan, in law offices, in the media, among the opposition parties and other sections of civil society, the feeling is growing that President Pervez Musharraf will have to quit sooner rather than later. After eight years of military rule, it appears people have had enough.
In the rapidly unfolding crisis Musharraf is a lame duck. He is unable to rein in the influence of the Taliban in Pakistan or guide the country toward a more democratic future.
Since March 9, when Musharraf suspended the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, public protests have escalated every day - as has a violent crackdown by the police and intelligence agencies on the media and the legal fraternity.
The legal convolutions about Chaudhry's dismissal boil down to one simple fact: He was not considered sufficiently reliable to deliver pleasing legal judgments in a year when Musharraf is seeking to extend his presidency by five more years, remain as army chief and hold what would undoubtedly be rigged general elections.
Musharraf's desire to replace Chaudhry with a more pliable judge has backfired. Lawyers around the country have made it clear to the senior judiciary that they will not tolerate further legal validations for continued military rule or tolerate Musharraf's remaining as president. At least seven judges and a deputy attorney general have resigned in protest.
Moreover, Musharraf is losing control of three key elements that have sustained his rule but are now either distancing themselves or turning on him. The first is the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Party, which has acted as the civilian appendage to the military but faces an election and knows that supporting the unpopular Musharraf will turn off voters.
The second element is the country's three intelligence agencies, which are at loggerheads over control of Musharraf, Pakistan's foreign policy, its political process and the media.
The third loss has been the unqualified international support Musharraf has received since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Anger in the U.S. Congress and media, particularly among members of the Republican Party, toward Musharraf's dual-track policy in Afghanistan - helping catch al-Qaida members but backing the Taliban - is making it difficult for President George W. Bush to continue offering Musharraf his blanket support.
That was the tough-love message that Vice President Dick Cheney delivered to Musharraf in Islamabad last month: Unless Musharraf goes after the Taliban, the Bush administration can no longer protect him.
Any loss of Western support will be critical to the army, which is on an arms-buying spree and depends on annual U.S. military aid of about $300 million. Musharraf has balanced the pro- and anti-American factions in the army's officer corps, but if both sides see him as a lame duck, their support will dwindle.
Musharraf is now too weak to pursue policies that could keep his back-stabbers in check, restore his credibility at home and abroad, and pursue his agenda of remaining in power for the next five years.
It is far better that he revert to the promise he made when he seized power in 1999: to return the country to democracy. His best course would be to say he is not a candidate for president, hold fair elections, allow the return of exiled politicians, restore full political rights and gracefully depart with his considerable legacy intact.
It is in the interest of the United States to support such an exit strategy. The military can no longer counter the phenomenal growth of Islamic extremism in Pakistan through offensives alone. What the country needs is greater political consensus and a popularly elected government, and to restore parliamentary politics.
The army created a political vacuum in which extremism has thrived. Pakistan needs a return to civil society and government.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, is the author of "Taliban" and "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia."
Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.
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| Ander Nieuws week 14 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |