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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Musharraf goes for 'Zia option'
Pervez Musharraf (l) is greeted by Hamid Karzai (r) in Kabul
Backing the 'war against terror' has won Musharraf friends abroad
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Analysis

By Zaffar Abbas
BBC correspondent in Islamabad
line

General Pervez Musharraf may have been a reluctant coup-maker in October 1999.

But not any more. He has now decided that, in his own wisdom, there is a need for him to remain president for another few years to ensure continuity of his economic and political reform programme.

Hence the move to hold a national referendum to legitimise his rule even after this year's parliamentary elections.

The ambitious General Zia was aware that his real strength lay in his standing as the army chief - and decided not to shed the uniform

For General Musharraf, the not so trifling detail that such an exercise lacks constitutional legitimacy does not seem to be causing much concern.

He is convinced that the next parliament will never elect him, so a direct vote in the form of a referendum remained the only option.

Once he had decided that he would continue as president even after October's parliamentary elections, General Musharraf did not have to look far for inspiration.

The country's chequered history presents as many as three models adopted in similar circumstances by previous military rulers.

Pakistan's first military ruler, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, hung up his uniform, appointed a new army chief, created a political party and effectively ensured that he would remain president.

Support of army peers

Yahya Khan initially made it clear he had no desire to be president but got sucked into a treacherous political game that ultimately resulted in a dishonourable exit.

The ambitious General Zia, for his part, was aware that his real strength lay in his standing as the army chief - and decided not to shed the uniform.


To keep the army out, you will have to keep the army in

Senior military adviser
Musharraf's closest associates are understandably reluctant to admit as much, but what he has essentially gone for is the Zia formula.

Though members of the opposition would like the world to believe the decision is driven by General Musharraf's personal desire to prolong his stay in power, the move is in fact supported by the entire military leadership.

The military establishment wants General Musharraf to use the "legitimacy" bestowed by a referendum to secure a permanent constitutional role for the army.

Representatives of religious parties address news conference
Pakistan's main religious parties reject the general's proposed referendum
This he is expected to do by prevailing upon the future parliament to accept the military-dominated National Security Council (NSC) as the final authority on issues of national importance.

"The army is a political reality in Pakistan. To avoid regular military interventions, its role in the decision-making process must be concretised," says a top government aide.

"To keep the army out, you will have to keep the army in," is the way another key adviser interprets the need for a permanent NSC.

Seeking legitmacy abroad

These officials are convinced that the Westminster-style of parliamentary democracy does not suit Pakistan, and in order to have a friction-free system, there is a need for a mechanism to share power in the form of the NSC.

Soldier guards Pakistan parliament
The general's move is supported by military leaders
Indeed it appears that the army's outlook vis--vis the NSC is the driving force behind the whole referendum exercise.

Significantly, the United States and other influential western players have also indicated that they would like President Musharraf to stay in office.

With the West interested primarily in Musharraf's campaign against Islamic militancy, the restoration of democracy has clearly become a non-issue.

In such a situation, General Musharraf knows he will have no problem in seeking legitimacy from the outside world.

Getting the vote out

He also remains convinced that his reformist policies are in the best interest of the country, and is therefore prepared to wage his reputation.

The military-led government feels enough voters can be mobilised to ensure a respectable turn-out to proclaim an honourable victory

His aides say the General is aware of the fierce opposition that may come from large political parties, whose boycott campaign may affect voter turn-out - something crucial in such an exercise.

So, the government has decided to mend rules to make it convenient for the people to cast their votes, and is planning an aggressive propaganda campaign in the run-up to referendum day.

And the military-led government feels that enough voters can be mobilised to ensure a respectable turn-out to proclaim an honourable victory.

See also:

03 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf poll approved
31 Mar 02 | South Asia
Musharraf signals referendum plan
21 Mar 02 | South Asia
Referendum rumours rife in Pakistan
13 Mar 02 | South Asia
Musharraf warns opposition leaders
24 Jan 02 | South Asia
Rural backing for Pakistan reform
17 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan's political vacuum
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Pakistan
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