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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Musharraf five years on
Tuesday marks the fifth anniversary of General Pervez Musharraf seizing power in Pakistan returning the country, once more, to military rule.

President Musharraf
Musharraf has indicated he may hang on to his uniform
He has been praised by Western powers for helping topple the Taleban in Afghanistan and for taking on radical Islamists on Pakistani soil. At home he has been courting controversy in recent months by going back on a pledge to step down as chief of the armed forces by the end of this year.

Our correspondent in Islamabad, Charles Haviland, has been looking at Gen Musharraf's record.

On 12 October 1999, Gen Musharraf was sacked as head of the armed services, and reacted by deposing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and taking political power.

The bloodless coup received widespread international condemnation and Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth.

But within a couple of years, as Western powers bombed Afghanistan after the 11 September 2001 attacks, Gen Musharraf proved himself an indispensable partner.

Becoming, in General Musharraf's own words, part of a coalition to fight terrorism, meant abandoning Islamabad's friends, the Taleban.

Young people who come out of these madrassas... join extremist organisations and terrorist organisations
Samina Ahmed
International Crisis Group
Many Pakistanis were enraged and reacted by taking to the streets with pro-Osama Bin Laden songs and slogans.

The Pakistani army's recent bloody drive against alleged al-Qaeda elements in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan has also courted controversy.

However, some observers, like Samina Ahmed, of the International Crisis Group in Pakistan, believes General Musharraf is being inconsistent in his moves against extremists.

She says he has failed to regulate the madrassas, or religious schools, which she says are breeding grounds for domestic and foreign extremists.

Islamist opposition

"There is no legislation to remove the hate content there. The end result in most of Pakistan is what we see - young people who come out of these madrassas who join extremist organisations and terrorist organisations.

The Taleban were able to establish security, law and order, justice, peace. They are... scholars who are providing service to the people
Professor Khurshid Ahmed
Jamiat-e Islami madrassa

"An interesting fact that I think very few people know - that of the Pakistanis that were detained after 9/11 by the United States, the largest group came from a madrassa in Karachi. The second-largest group were graduates - if you can call them that - of a madrassa in Balochistan, in western Pakistan.

"And now, of course, this was also the base of the Taleban themselves."

Madrassa reform is opposed by Islamist political parties, which, since a controversial election two years ago, now lead the opposition.

'No knife'

Professor Khurshid Ahmed, the deputy head of the Jamiat-e Islami madrassa, says: "The Taleban were able to establish security, law and order, justice, peace. They are the best products from the madrassas - 99.9% of them are the scholars who are providing service to the people."

I asked him if the opposition did not want the madrassas reformed... and were holding a knife to President Musharraf's throat to stop him reforming them.

"There is no knife. General Pervez Musharraf does not want and cannot change the madrassa because madrassa is a natural part of the Muslim society," he replied.

But pro-secular Pakistanis point out that the religious parties supported last year's major constitutional amendment which increased the president's powers, and say that Gen Musharraf is therefore now beholden to them.

A supporter of former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif is arrested
Some Islamists object to Musharraf's policies
Official statistics from a 2002 referendum on whether he should stay in power gave Gen Musharraf a 96% "yes" vote - a figure many considered implausible.

But it is common to find Pakistanis who feel that as a military man, Gen Musharraf brings sorely-needed discipline to the country.

"We need discipline in every sector in Pakistan - in the economic field, defence, foreign policies," says a shopkeeper.

"He is faring well about his economic policies - Pakistan has shown consistency which was lacking in the previous civil governments."

At home and abroad Gen Musharraf arouses conflicting views.

He is seen as a secular-minded liberal, who some fear is in thrall to religious conservatives; and as an ally of the West who, nonetheless, pardoned a top scientist who sold nuclear arms technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

His supporters say Pakistan needs his firm hand.

But, as parliament prepares to pass a bill letting the president retain his armed forces role, his secular opponents say this man, who refuses to submit to competitive elections, is an anachronism.


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