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l January 2004 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 3, No 8 l

E D I T O R I A L 

Pakistan's self-appointed junta ruler

What others say..........

The past week has given the Bush administration more cause to reconsider its heavy reliance on a single general, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, to maintain stability in one of the world's most dangerous areas. On Thursday Mr. Musharraf narrowly escaped another attempted assassination -- the second in less than two weeks and the fourth in less than two years. One day earlier, Pakistan's self-appointed president announced that he had struck a deal with a coalition of Islamic militants that will legitimize his continuance in office until 2007 and ratify his rewrite of the constitution at the price of further empowering a movement that seeks Taliban-style rule for both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. More than ever, Mr. Musharraf's ability to deliver on his promises to stand with the United States against terrorism and Islamic extremism is in doubt. His sudden death would trigger a crisis both for Pakistan and for U.S. security. Yet if the Bush administration has a fallback plan, it shows no sign of it.

Washington finds Mr. Musharraf seductive in part because reliance on him is the simplest approach to a series of complicated problems. The general frequently denounces terrorism, endorses moderate Islam and promises democracy and an end to Pakistan's illegal trade in weapons of mass destruction. His security forces have captured or killed some 500 members of al Qaeda -- though not Osama bin Laden, who is probably somewhere in the country -- and Mr. Musharraf periodically announces crackdowns against Pakistani extremist groups. Recently he has made conciliatory gestures to India; clearly he has made himself an enemy of al Qaeda, which is probably behind the attempts to kill him.

Still, despite strong support from the United States -- including the recent promise of $3 billion in aid -- the general has been unwilling or unable to deliver in critical areas. The Taliban has regrouped in western Pakistan and is using the region as a base from which to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan with the support of Muslim parties that hold provincial government posts. It is with those same parties, rather than Pakistan's secular and pro-Western movements, that Mr. Musharraf has now chosen to forge a de facto alliance. Though he portrayed the bargain as a step toward democracy -- the general agreed to resign his military post in a year and to dilute some of the constitutional amendments concentrating power in his hands -- in reality it may serve mainly to preserve his own position as president while making him more vulnerable to pressure from anti-American extremists.

The world already has good reason to wonder whether, despite Mr. Musharraf's promises, Pakistan's nuclear technology is being spread to rogue states or terrorists. If he were to fall victim to assassination, Pakistan's own nuclear arsenal might be up for grabs, as extremist Muslim and pro-Western elements inside and outside the military scrambled for power. Mr. Musharraf's manipulation of the political system leaves no clear road map for continuity. Bush administration officials appear to bank on the assumption of power in a crisis by another friendly general -- which, even under Mr. Musharraf's constitution, probably would require a coup d'etat. Other forces, including the secular democratic parties and civil society movements, might be allies of the United States, but the Bush administration's strategy doesn't encompass them. All its chips are on a man whose evasion of two suicide truck bombs was, for the second time this month, a lucky chance.

I The Washington Post I

Saturday, December 27, 2003

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