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Saturday, 12 January, 2002, 21:36 GMT
Analysis: Musharraf's gamble
President Pervez Musharraf
A powerful message for inside and outside Pakistan
By the BBC's Stephen Cviic

General Musharraf's speech to the nation contained measures designed to reduce tension with India, but it also included a powerful message for ordinary people at home: that Pakistan has to modernise if it wants to play an important part on the world stage.

The Western world may not be entirely surprised by what General Musharraf had to say, as it has grown accustomed to seeing him as a partner in a battle against terrorism and Muslim extremism.

The speech also contained a powerful message for Pakistan itself - modernise or be marginalised

But in the context of Pakistani history, this was an extraordinary speech.

By stating that Pakistan has no need to interfere in the affairs of other countries and that from now on, the Kashmir dispute will be conducted by political means, General Musharraf seems to be putting aside decades of overt and covert military support for Kashmiri militants.

It may not be enough to satisfy India, but the general has probably gone as far in that direction as any Pakistani leader could go.

If he were not a military ruler, it is doubtful whether he would survive in office.

The speech also contained a powerful message for Pakistan itself - modernise or be marginalised.

After 20 years during which Pakistan has become steadily more influenced by radical Islam, the general is trying to turn the tide, with tough new controls on Islamic schools and the threat of action against clerics who incite hatred.

Army reaction

General Musharraf does not face any immediate test from public opinion, and he already has the backing of the United States.

More uncertain will be the reaction of the Pakistani army, which contains some radical Muslim officers.

And over the longer-term, if Pakistanis still feel they are getting nowhere over Kashmir, despite the general's concessions, they may eventually turn against him.

General Musharraf has decided to stake his entire presidency on a gamble that radical nationalism and radical Islam are less important to his fellow countrymen than peace, prosperity and stability.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey
"General Musharraf is treading a fine line domestically"
See also:

04 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan rounds up militants
21 Dec 01 | Americas
More groups join US terror blacklist
20 Dec 01 | South Asia
India rebuffs evidence request
13 Dec 01 | South Asia
India attack prompts crackdown
14 Dec 01 | South Asia
Violent 'army of the pure'
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