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Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 15:40 GMT
Musharraf, the army and 2007
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Karachi

President Pervez Musharraf has already started his campaign for next year's elections with several addresses to the military.

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The army has always been the principal power base for any military ruler in Pakistan and Gen Musharraf is no different.

Over the last few months, he has visited several army garrisons to directly talk to the troops.

A large part of his speeches has been focused on the progress of the US-declared war on terror and its implications for Pakistan.

"The nation feels pride as the Pakistan army has secured great success to defeat terrorism, Gen Musharraf told one group of troops back in March.

Last month he called for "forging unity and harmony in our ranks to combat terrorism and extremism" in a speech in Gujranwala in north-eastern Pakistan.

After November's suicide bombing at Dargai in north-western Pakistan which killed 42 soldiers he rallied soldiers with "Don't be terrified of such attacks... keep your morale high."

A few days earlier the president had told army training graduates: "We will talk to the extremists in their own language".

These comments come in the light of what is increasingly seen as unease among the ranks over the war on terror.

"The friction is there... it is definitely there", says Ayesha Siddiqa Agha, one of Pakistan's leading defence analysts.

Rise in Dissent?

The disapproval of Gen Musharraf's post 11 September policy, when he ditched Pakistan's support for the Taleban, was evident from the very day it was inaugurated.

Survivors examine the dead after Dargai attack
The Dargai suicide attack which left 42 soldiers dead

In October 2001, when "unconditional support" for the US war on terror was announced by Pakistan, Gen Musharraf's first administrative step was to sideline his three most senior and trusted commanders.

All three had been had been instrumental in installing him in power in the 1999 coup that ended Nawaz Sharif's civilian government.

But they disagreed with the post-11 September policy reversal on the Taleban and were shown the door.

Since that time, Gen Musharraf has kept the reins of power tightly in his hands.

Many observers of the military say that every single act, from troop movements to postings and promotions, remains at the discretion of Gen Musharraf.

He has served in the army for six years longer than his corp commanders, giving him added prestige.

In conferences on policy issue within the army there is reportedly little debate.

'Communications failure'

As such, the heat rising from unpopular decisions is largely internalised. But its consequences are publicly evident.

Since the war on terror began several armed forces officials have been court martialled and imprisoned on various charges.

In the army, a total of six officers and the same number of enlisted men are on record for being court martialled.

I am a soldier... I must and will do my duty but I didn't join the army to kill my own people
Army officer

Of these all of the officers belong to the army, while two of the enlisted men were with the elite Special Services Group.

The remaining are junior, or non-commissioned, officers of the Pakistan Air Force.

All of the enlisted men have been charged with attempting to assassinate President Musharraf in two separate plots in December 2003.

Five of the officers were originally held without any specific allegation, but were later charged with aiding, abetting or speaking favourably of Al Qaeda militants.

One of the officers, Major Adil Qudoos, was accused of harbouring 11 September mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.

Dr Agha believes that the problems are due to "failure of the military high command to make the junior ranks understand the change in the Afghan policy".

'Ethnic Problem'

But the biggest challenge with the war on terror comes from the tribal areas in the form of an ethnic problem - the Pashtun dilemma.

Since the formation of the British Indian Army, the Pashtuns have provided the cutting edge to the professional armed forces in the Indian subcontinent.

Gen Musharraf
Gen Musharraf keeps tight control over military decisions

In undivided India, they were perhaps matched only by the Gurkhas for fighting prowess and ability.

At partition, with the Frontier regions falling into the Pakistan half, the Pashtuns became the mainstays of the Pakistan army, matching the more numerous Punjabis for clout.

Today, at least 25% of Pakistan's half-a-million strong armed forces are of Pashtun ethnicity.

During the course of Pakistan's history this has included two military dictators and four army chiefs.

This means extensive influence within the Pakistani establishment for the Pashtuns.

With the war on terror, that very establishment had to play to part of policeman against them.

This was done by hunting down Al Qaeda and Taleban members in the Pashtun-majority North Western Frontier Province - which later transformed into the Waziristan operation.

Some of those sought by the military had family and tribal relationships with the locals, which are prized above all other relations according to the Pakhtunwali - tribal code of the Pashtuns.

Given this background, the operation may well have been doomed from the start.

Political Dilemma

All this baggage is hardly anything that Gen Musharraf is unaware of.

An injured man is carried by medical staff
At least 20 soldiers were injured in the attack

Analysts agree that the garrison addresses are aimed at getting all levels of the army involved in the decision making process.

The aim is to secure the 'main constituency', the army, before the 2007 elections.

These have been termed by Musharraf as "the most important milestone" in Pakistan's history.

During them, he is unlikely to have time to explain policy to the army, hence the timing of the addresses.

The addresses are followed by a session of question and answer which is open to all senior and junior officials.

The Gujranwala address, for example, was attended by 500 officials many of whom participated in the hour long session afterwards.

How successful the sessions are can perhaps only be judged in the upcoming year.

However, an army officer's remark to an invitee at one of the functions is enlightening.

"I am a soldier... I must and will do my duty" he said. "But I didn't join the army to kill my own people".

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