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Last Updated: Monday, 5 November 2007, 17:52 GMT
Does Musharraf face risk of a coup?
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was forced to dismiss rumours circulating on Monday that he had been placed under house arrest, just two days after he declared emergency rule.

1999 coup
So far, coups in Pakistan have been against civilian governments

As things stand, there is little reason to believe that Gen Musharraf, who is both president and head of the army, is in imminent danger of being removed from office by force.

There are only two groups of people who would appear to have the capacity to move against Gen Musharraf and arrest him.

One is his immediate subordinates in the army, including the heads of the intelligence services.

The other is the corps commanders who constitute the second tier of the leadership of the military.

Gen Musharraf's position depends on the personal loyalty to him of those who serve him and also the institutional loyalty of military men to their chief.

On both counts, the odds looked stacked well in favour of Gen Musharraf.

Hand-picked

The only positions from which it looks as if a coup could be organised are those of the deputy head of the army and the chiefs of two intelligence services, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI).

Pervez Musharraf
Gen Musharraf has handpicked his top men

The present holders of those posts were hand-picked by Gen Musharraf, apparently on the basis of his understanding of their loyalty and competence.

Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was recently promoted and appointed as the deputy chief of the army and nominated by Gen Musharraf as his successor to the top military post.

Gen Kayani was instrumental in overseeing the investigations into two attempts on Gen Musharraf's life in 2003, bringing a number of low-ranking military personnel to a court martial.

At a farewell dinner held for some retiring army officers last month, Gen Musharraf devoted a large part of his speech to Gen Kayani's merits, and said that "both of us think alike".

The Director-General of the ISI, Lt Gen Nadim Taj, has served as Gen Musharraf's military secretary (MS), a position which is normally given to a close confidante.

Gen Taj was also on the fateful plane that took Gen Musharraf from Sri Lanka to Karachi, and then to the corridors of power in Islamabad, on 12 October 1999.

The government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sacked Gen Musharraf and ordered his plane to be diverted, sparking the coup that ended 10 years of democratic rule in Pakistan.

Obscure position

The head of Military Intelligence, Major-Gen Nadim Ejaz, is also a confidante and a close relative of Gen Musharraf's wife, Sehba Musharraf.

Nawaz Sharif
Nawaz Sharif was deposed by Musharraf in a 1999 coup

Gen Musharraf brought him from an obscure position in the ISI to head the MI, and gave him important assignments in Balochistan province as well as the tribal areas in the north-west.

There is no visible pressure on these officials to move against Gen Musharraf. On the contrary, they would be under pressure to support Gen Musharraf's dispensation in order to stabilise their own newly acquired positions.

In some quarters it has been suggested that Gen Kayani may have a motive to stage a coup, since he would be the man to step into Gen Musharraf's shoes.

Unprecedented

So far in Pakistan's history, coups have been staged by army chiefs only against civilian leaders.

So a counter-coup from within the army would be unprecedented.

In the past, the army chiefs have moved against civilian governments on the basis of perceived threats to national integrity that may or may not have been real.

Lt Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiani
Lt Gen Kiani is army second in command

But for a coup to be directed against a ruler who is also the army chief, the threat would have to be a real one.

If millions of people were to pour out onto the streets against President Musharraf, and the law and order machinery were to break down, then powerful elements in the military might indeed believe there was a threat to national integrity.

That only looks possible now should Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party join forces with lawyers and other opposition groups that are trying to mobilise support for anti-Musharraf protests.

But Ms Bhutto is currently engaged in delicate power-sharing negotiations with Gen Musharraf.

And one of the noticeable things about the current protests in Pakistan after Saturday's declaration of emergency rule is that the street protests have been relatively small scale.

Perhaps for now Gen Musharraf will be more worried about the continued threat of assassination, either from the thousands of pro-Taleban militants waging war against the army, or disgruntled lower-ranking members of the military.

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