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Wednesday, October 13, 1999 Published at 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK

World: South Asia

Pakistan's coup: Why the army acted

Less than four months after visiting the Kashmir front and congratulating the head of the army General Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finds himself deposed by the same man.

Pakistan in crisis
But while the trigger for Pakistan's fourth military coup was undoubtedly the fallout from the Kashmir crisis, its roots can be found two years ago when the prime minister attempted to concentrate power around himself.

The BBC's Jim Fish charts the fall of Nawaz Sharif
Mr Sharif came to power with a massive majority in February 1997.

Within months he amended the constitution to prevent the president from sacking an elected government and then turned his attention to the chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah.

The judge's dismissal came after he attempted to bring charges against the prime minister, who had failed to answer allegations of corruption.

General resigns

Then in October 1998, possibly emboldened by his successes against the judiciary, Nawaz Sharif challenged the military establishment.

[ image: Gen karamat: First ever general to resign]
Gen karamat: First ever general to resign
The army's then chief General Jehangir Karamat called for the military to have a greater role in policy through a joint security council with the government.

According to reports from the time, army chief and prime minister held a stormy meeting and, for the first time ever, it was the general who chose to quit.

Mr Sharif moved quickly and appointed Pervez Musharraf, promoted over the heads of two more senior military figures.

Regional analysts say that he chose Gen Musharraf not only to show his own grasp over the military but also to put in place a man he believed would be unable to build a powerbase because he did not belong to the dominant Punjabi-officer class in the Pakistani army.

Wider crisis

While the military allowed these machinations to take place, the popularity of the Sharif government was plunging amid an economic slump - foreign debt totalling $32bn - and a law and order crisis.

General Hamid Gul: "The army acted in the national interest"
Opposition figures allege that such was the prime minister's unpopularity that members of his own parliamentary party now began to conspire with the military, especially as opposition grew to the direction of his peace moves with India, which began in March this year.

Hamid Gul, a retired general, accuses Mr Sharif of having presided over an administration which had failed to deliver the goods.

"Sharif turned out to be a great destroyer of national institutions," he told the BBC.

"Look at what he did to the judiciary.

"He stripped them of power, put a set of judges against the chief justice, did the same to the press.

"He gagged the parliament and finally he wanted to do the same to the army."

Kashmir accusations

But the turning point was this year's Kashmir crisis, where the Pakistani military believed they could finally score a significant victory over India.

[ image:  ]
Within days of pledging his full support to the Kashmir campaign, viewed by the military as an operation of strategic brillliance, Mr Sharif, under pressure from Washington, made a dramatic U-turn and ordered a full withdrawal.

India's leaders celebrated what they saw as a victory while some of Sharif supporters accused senior Pakistani generals of reckless adventurism.

In an interview with the BBC, Gen Musharraf made clear that all the politicians had been "on board" when the offensive began. He was not going to be blamed.

Maleeha Lodhi of the News: "Sharif's popularity was at an all time low"
Shireen Mazari, a Pakistan defence expert, said that the military viewed the pullout as a humiliation.

"A lot of people in the military are unhappy about the fact that after many years, in fact for the first time probably, we had the Indians where we wanted them militarily in Kargil," she said.

"There is a feeling in the military that had there been proper input into this decision, then maybe the decision (of Sharif) to go to Washington might not have happened."

'Coup attempt against army'

Mr Sharif was now faced with increasing tension in his own party, the military and among the people.

Critics like Gen Gul say that his attempt to consolidate power and oust Gen Musharraf was a "coup attempt against the army", the last desperate act of a man under siege.

[ image:  ]
"The chances of a civil war were very ominous," said Gen Gul.

"The army acted in the national interest and thaat is why the nation is rejoicing." Maleeha Lodhi, editor of the Pakistani newspaper, the News, said that the army's intervention came as it realised that Sharif's popularity had reached an all time low.

"Questions of legitimacy were being asked as the government had failed to deliver even the most fundamental of policies such as law and order," she said.

"I think this (coup) is not unlike military interventions in the past which have occurred when the civilian government has been ineffectual and inept."

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