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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Musharraf's 'crisis on all fronts'
Guest journalist Ahmed Rashid examines why problems are mounting for Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf at home and abroad.

Indians burn a poster of President Pervez Musharraf in Delhi
India has accused Pakistan of supporting terror

President Musharraf is facing a tough stand-off with neighbours India and Afghanistan and the international community, who are all urging him to do more to curb Islamic extremists operating in his country.

This comes at a time when he is facing the worst domestic political and economic crises since he came to power in 1999.

The train bombings in Mumbai on 11 July which left 182 people dead have led to a dramatic sea change in Indo-Pakistan relations, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accused Pakistan of supporting "terrorist modules" bent on harming Indian democracy.

Such accusations from India have been rare since both countries set out on a path to peace.

The fundamentalists may question Musharraf's personal secular credentials, but they are not opposed to military rule

Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of allowing the Taleban sanctuary and support in their bid to drive out Western forces from Afghanistan and overthrow the government of President Hamid Karzai.

On both counts Pakistan has rejected the accusations.

But there is little doubt that Gen Musharraf and the military are facing unprecedented global criticism for their apparent reluctance to wrap up extremist groups who still operate with impunity and brazen openness in Pakistan.

However, at the same time, al-Qaeda and their Pakistani and Afghan allies have long expressed a desire to see the end of India-Pakistan rapprochement and an end to Gen Musharraf, whom Ayman al Zawahri, the number two al-Qaeda leader, credits as being the organisation's worst enemy in the region.

Moreover, Pakistan has lost more than 800 soldiers battling militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

So where does the truth lie?

Tragic consequences

After suffering heavy losses in southern Afghanistan in recent weeks, US and Nato military commanders in Kabul say they have complained harshly and bitterly to their respective governments about the Taleban's ability to maintain bases for command and control, logistics and recruitment in Pakistan's Balochistan province.

Supporters of an Islamic political party shout anti government slogans during a rally in Islamabad
'The military intends to use the fundamentalists as political allies'
The normally reticent UN has also publicly notched up pressure on Pakistan.

These complaints have resulted in a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Islamabad while senior ministers from European Nato countries are due to make their own complaints.

India has accused Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) of having a hand in the Mumbai train bombings.

Even though the LeT has been declared a terrorist organisation by the UN, the US, Britain and Pakistan, a reformed LeT with a new name was rehabilitated by the military after the earthquake in Kashmir last year, as it acted as a relief organisation.

There is certainly anger amongst many Pakistanis at the way the military has allowed some extremist groups a continued platform for their views.

Despite strong protests by civic groups and Shia leaders, the militant Sunni extremist group Sipah-e-Sahaba was rehabilitated by the regime earlier this year and allowed to hold a huge rally in Islamabad just a mile away from the diplomatic quarter.

The results have been tragic.

On 14 July the country's leading Shia politician and scholar Allama Hasan Turabi was killed by a suicide bomber at his home in Karachi.

The fear of sectarian violence has gripped the country.

In Balochistan the army has depended on the Pashtun-based Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) for political support.

The JUI has supported the Taleban since its inception in 1994. Gen Musharraf is hoping to cause a split in the alliance of Islamic parties by weaning away the JUI and enlisting it for his second bid for the presidency. Going against the Taleban now would mean alienating the JUI.

Pervez Musharraf and Hamid Karzai
Musharraf (left) and Karzai are uneasy allies in the 'war on terror'
And that is where the contradiction between the international community and the Pakistan military and Gen Musharraf emerges.

Much of what they do is connected with domestic politics - ensuring Gen Musharraf's political survival, retaining the military as the unquestioned power in the country at the expense of political parties and civil society and making sure that the military's national agenda is the only agenda.

Gen Musharraf and the military hierarchy are neither extremist nor remotely fundamentalist.

But they have every intention of using the fundamentalists as political allies against national political parties who question the need for military rule. (The fundamentalists may question Musharraf's personal secular credentials, but they are not opposed to military rule.)


Where the military is not threatened politically, such as the presence of al-Qaeda and other groups in Waziristan and where US pressure is inescapable, the military acts and sends in the troops.

It is an anomaly to many that the army has lost 800 troops battling al-Qaeda in Waziristan, but not a single soldier battling the Taleban in Balochistan.

The present crisis comes at a time when Gen Musharraf's popularity has hit an all-time low as major scandals related to the stock market, privatisation and sugar shortages rock the country and people suffer from high inflation.

Pakistani paramilitary troops ride in a vehicle as they patrol a market in North Waziristan tribal area
The Pakistan army has lost 800 troops in Waziristan
Moreover, after seven years people are just tired of military rule, which according to some critics has resulted in a pretence parliament and a puppet government, with the generals calling the shots behind the scene.

In the midst of his waning popularity and growing international criticism, Gen Musharraf is trying to marshal all the political forces to support his re-election bid as president next year - while holding on to the post of army chief.

He then wants to hold an election in which the army will once again forge an alliance between the pro-army faction of the Pakistan Muslim League and some Islamic parties such as the JUI.

It is Gen Musharraf's pressing political agenda for which time and credibility is in short supply that pushes his continued love affair with the fundamentalists, even though the same fundamentalists have shown little real love for the people or the military's national agenda.

This debate is now closed. Here is a selection of comments you sent.

Instead of focusing on securing power for himself Gen Musharraf should focus more on strengthening government and democratic institutions which would serve Pakistan best in the long term. Like in case of previous dictators, US will abruptly end support one day and then the crisis will set in. The old corrupt politicians will again have a picnic as large masses of illiterate Pakistanis will vote them in again having no other choice. Apart from this fact, would like to add that I am a supporter of General Musharraf due to his far better performance than the totally corrupt politicians.
Mohsin Afridi, Canada

Ahmad Rashid's analyses are always to the point. But the question is in this gloomy picture of Pakistan's political future can this country survive from external and internal threats. Noutak Baloch
Noutak Baloch, UAE

I am just baffled by Ahmad Rashid's complete loss of memory. He forgets what the two main national parties who had a go at governing the country more than once did to the country. In my view Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif should be brought to account in a court for the damage they caused which resulted in army coming into power. Musharraf is keeping the country together and making it economically viable.

While this article does a fair job of describing the current state of affairs in Pakistan, it fails to explain why President Musharraf has shown such restraint in dealing with the Taliban and the extremist religious groups. An all out war against these groups entails a serious risk of setting off the type of violent insurgency that we are seeing in Iraq. As much as I would like to see these elements removed from Pakistani society, given these risks, I have to agree with the government that a military solution is not an option.
Athar Syed, Pakistan

Let UN and other countries carve out Kashmir, both Indian and Pakistani portions excluding Jammu and Ladakh, as a sovereign state. It will end all disputes, unrest in the region and enable India and Pakistan to divert the funds used in war for the teeming millions of people living in abject poverty.
Dr RC Misra, India

There is no pressure on President Musharraf in any front, its just hawkish propaganda that media and (specially Indian)projects time to time against him and we Pakistani as a nation strongly back our President to continue to serve a nation.
Faisal, Islamabad, Pakistan

This article is very anti- Pakistani. India has many problems of its own. In every corner of India there are small ethnic groups who want separation from the rule of Indian leadership. Pakistan is just used as a scapegoat, because it has always been India's rival.
Afzal, USA

For educated people, Musharraf is still far better than all politicians. If he goes for referendum, I am sure that he will get more than 60% votes. The landlords, politicians and corrupt people are unhappy on his government, so they are causing all problems. We can see that Musharraf rule was best before elections. After elections, he is making compromises with politicians.
G. Hassan, Pakistan

Very simplified and cursory view of actual situation. Problems are far deeper than shown to be. Musharraf may have become less popular but there is little threat from political plethora or junior generals. People are not happy, but see hardly any alternative! So the situation may continue indefinitely. M. J. Iabal
M. J. Iqbal, Pakistan

I am appalled by the double standard Pakistan and US have against terrorism. In actual sense US is not interested in finishing terrorism they are only interested in their interest which is currently being fulfilled by Pakistan's president. Why are the lives of common peoples being sacrificed to fulfil the agenda of few?
Maneesh Jamwal, Thailand

I don't believe Ahmed Rashid has said anything new in this article. This is being repeated over and over again. General Musharraf can give whatever excuse he wants to continue his rule but no one is indispensable. Gen Zia also said the same thing and now Gen Musharaf says that the country needs him. I know one thing. Gen Zia survived because of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Gen. Musharraf was lucky that 9/11 tragedy happened. The day President Bush does not need him, he will not survive even a week.
Imran Khan, USA

As a Pakistani, I am somewhat offended by this article. The world has to understand and distinguish between Pakistan as a nation and the Pakistani government. Pervez Musharraf has been since the beginning of his term been trying to Westernize the country, but it is not an easy task since there is a lot of resistance from the Muslim fundamentalist leaders. Pakistan as a whole is a Muslim nation and there will always be a bit of bitter feelings towards the Americans seeing as that Bush has recently made great allies with India and has left Pakistan once again in the dark.
Ayesha, Canada

When General Musharraf took power he stated that his idol was Kemal Ataturk but he has failed to imitate a single act of this great world leader. It seems that international community is also at fault to believe in Gen Musharraf who has proved that like all other previous Pakistani leaders he is hell bound to create chaos at international and domestic levels. In fact the resilience of ordinary Pakistanis is admirable in face of corrupt political leadership.
Ted, India



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