Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
World: South Asia
Analysis: Can the army deliver?
Military wants a breathing space to tackle main problems
By Robert Bradnock of London University's School of Oriental and African Studies
While the Commonwealth's decision to suspend Pakistan from membership may have little immediate effect, it raises questions about the obstacles the new government of General Musharraf will face in tackling the country's domestic and international crisis.
There are few sanctions with which the Commonwealth can back up its disapproval of either the coup or the new 'soft-faced' military government of Pakistan's National Security Council, but it has set the tone of disapproval for other major international bodies.
Bleak economic scene
With debts of about $34bn and foreign reserves of just $1bn, spiralling defence costs in the wake of Pakistan's retaliatory nuclear test in May 1998 dramatically worsened the climate for international assistance on which Pakistan critically depended.
Economic failure was matched by a total failure to resolve the rumbling internal unrest, especially in the key southern province of Sindh.
The promise of new diplomatic initiatives with India ushered in by the Lahore process suggested new promise, but by mid-June Pakistan was bemused by the Kargil fiasco, a military initiative whose purpose remained obscure throughout and whose sudden end spelt political humiliation.
Courting world opinion
Putting the immediate history behind him, General Musharraf outlined a programme through which he hopes to gain maximum domestic political support while doing his best to reduce the loss of overseas support.
Tackling corruption may be a repeated claim by incoming politicians in the sub-continent, but it had a ring of conviction, which will undoubtedly gain popular support.
His clear rejection of extreme fundamentalism was aimed at both a domestic and foreign audience.
Still more clearly tailored to the United States were the stated aims of foreign policy, including a commitment to restraint in the nuclear field and to a withdrawal of troops from the Indian front.
Getting breathing space
This move will also be welcomed in India as a significant gesture.
He is clearly hoping that he will be given a breathing space in which he can use the immediate popular support for his coup to shift Pakistan's economy and foreign policy away from the precipice on which it is currently teetering.
If Pakistan pulls back from the economic brink, shows itself willing to listen to the international agenda on nuclear weapons, and takes significant steps to negotiate a new relationship with India, he could make it difficult for the international community to turn its back on him for good.
If he is able to match those developments with maintaining his stated commitment to human rights and the freedom of the press, he may make the moral claim that he has been more democratic than previous governments which have claimed the name but failed to deliver on the substance.
But for the moment that remains a big "if".