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 Musharraf's headache for the US

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The Sameer
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Registration date : 2007-03-07

PostSubject: Musharraf's headache for the US   Sat Mar 17, 2007 6:46 am

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/IC16Df02.html

KARACHI - Little more than a year ago, policymakers in Washington began to explore ways to establish a more democratic, civilian system in Pakistan. This was despite President General Pervez Musharraf's firm grip on the affairs of state and despite his serving Washington's interests as an ally in the "war on terror".

In December 2005, some Central Intelligence Agency operators were sent to Pakistan to find possible senior pro-US army officers who might replace Musharraf as commander-in-chief of the armed



forces and to increase contacts with pro-democracy forces for the establishment of a civilian government. [1]

The alternative strategy was considered imperative in Washington in light of growing unrest in Pakistan's civil society against the military establishment. This unrest was breeding radical Islamists, and Washington relied heavily on strongman Musharraf out of fear that such radicals might take control of the country if he were to go.

These efforts came to nothing, and Musharraf, who has held power since taking over in a coup in 1999, remained in control. However, with the Taliban poised for a massive spring offensive (in part with Pakistan's support), [2] Washington is once again concerned. According to a New York Times report, Washington's frustration at doing business with Musharraf is matched only by the fear of living without him.

Justice denied
Musharraf's suspension a week ago of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhary, over allegations of abuse of power have brought matters to a crisis point.

After a prolonged political lull in Pakistan, scores of lawyers blocked the main roads of Islamabad on Tuesday when Chaudhary appeared for an in camera trial in front of a judicial council to face Musharraf's charges. Proceedings were put off until Friday.

Chaudhary's case has proved a catalyst for anti-Musharraf forces to flex some muscle. Members of the six-party religious alliance the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians, and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and other opposition leaders took to the streets. They were accompanied by human-rights groups and other civil-society organizations.

The police, too, were out in force and several clashes took place, including in other parts of the country. Federal Minister of Information Mohammed Ali Durrani has repeatedly ruled out imposing a state of emergency, but this remains a possibility. In many districts of the country, "Section 144", under which no gatherings or rallies are allowed, has already been imposed.

In insurgency-torn Balochistan province, nationalist Pashtun and Balochi elements have taken full political advantage and joined hands with lawyers and other groups to stage protests and strikes.

Former prime minister Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, has called the situation "an internal matter of the military and the judiciary".

The military establishment faces the choice of clamping down hard on opposition or allowing the protests to run their course.

"There is undoubtedly a political eruption after a prolonged political lull in the country, and if it is sustained it could go a long way. However, there is always a threat from the establishment that it will make some moves to divide the politicians and lawyers," commented retired Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, a former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence.

"Musharraf created the situation where a clash of the military establishment and civil society seems to be imminent. There is .... anger among the masses towards the present military rulers," Gul said.

Militants feed off such anger, so once again Washington is pondering whether Musharraf may be more the problem than the solution.
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