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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 17:35 GMT
Pakistan's 'isolated' president
Ahmed Rashid
By Ahmed Rashid, Lahore

Protests against Gen Musharraf
The president is coming under increasing pressure

Ahmed Rashid, guest journalist and writer on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, reflects on the difficulties facing Pakistan's leader.

To many Pakistanis it seems that President Pervez Musharraf is becoming increasingly isolated.

The latest headache comes in the shape of lawyers who have been staging rallies across the country in protest of what they see as his politically-motivated suspension of the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The sight of black-jacketed lawyers smattered in blood after clashes in Lahore with police does little for the image of Pakistan.

But before this, there have been signs of Islamic extremism gaining strength. Ordinary citizens are complaining of worsening law and order.

And Pakistan's relations with the United States, Europe and neighbouring countries are becoming more strained.

Kalashnikov-wielding women

This is an election year for President Musharraf. But two issues are threatening him.

Pakistani border guard
Pakistan is now the most fenced in nation in the world

The first is the military's failure to assert the government's writ over large areas of the country and its refusal to tackle Islamic extremists head-on.

The second development is the assertion of some extremists that they no longer recognise the legitimacy of the state and will only do so when an Islamic revolution takes place.

Judges, soldiers, policemen, lawyers and ordinary women and children were the victims of a dozen suicide bombings by extremists in February. The authorities have made few arrests.

In Islamabad, foreign diplomats were shocked when the government gave in to some 3,000 Kalashnikov-wielding militant women, who refused to evacuate a religious school that had been set for demolition because it had been built illegally.

In the heart of the nation's capital the women refused to recognise any orders from the state.

The cabinet was divided with some ministers, including the pro-Islamist right-wing Minister of Religious Affairs Ijaz ul Haq openly siding with the militant women.

Meanwhile extremists are threatening female politicians.

Law and order is breaking down in the major cities.

Up to 200 crimes and robberies are being committed every a day in major cities - in Karachi the figures are double that.

Much of the prevalent crime is committed by unemployed youth, who form gangs to steal cars, motor bikes and mobile phones.

Public criticism

Another blow to Pakistan's self-image came when most of the planes of the state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) were banned from landing in European Union capitals because of safety concerns. PIA officials and government ministers denied there was any problem.

Islamic parties protest in Pakistan
Hardline Islamic opposition to the president is growing

On the international front, Gen Musharraf's credibility is at stake as his commitment to deal with terrorism is being questioned by the US and leading Nato countries.

On a five-hour visit to Islamabad on 26 February, US Vice President Dick Cheney warned the president about Pakistan's lack of action against Taleban and al-Qaeda leaders operating from its soil.

In several packed hearings in the US Congress, retired US military officers and other American experts testified that Pakistan was deliberately harbouring the Taleban to use as a political card in Afghanistan.

Nato countries not normally known for their public criticism of allies have been openly questioning Pakistan's continued commitment to the "war on terrorism".

Meanwhile, Iran has become the latest country, after India and Afghanistan, to accuse it of interference in its internal affairs.

In early March, Iranian leaders accused Pakistan of becoming a sanctuary for terrorists, after several Iranians were killed by militants who then fled across the border to Pakistan.

Iran is also suspicious that Pakistan is supporting the US agenda of trying to create a Sunni alliance of Arab countries aimed at Shia Iran. Pakistan counters that Iran is helping the insurgency by rebels in Pakistani Balochistan.

Pakistani soldiers on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border
The military has failed to assert the government's writ
Pakistan is now the most fenced in nation in the world. Iran is now following India's example and erecting a fence on its border with Pakistan, while Islamabad wants to erect a fence on its border with Afghanistan.

All these problems come ahead of polls in which Gen Musharraf wants to be re-elected for another five years by the current parliament, while continuing to remain army chief.

Expectations of a free and fair elections are lowered daily as Gen Musharraf insists in public statements that people vote for his nominees, while newspapers report that the ubiquitous intelligence services are already interviewing prospective parliamentary candidates to ascertain their loyalty to the president.

Pakistanis are used to military rulers prolonging their innings indefinitely and also to rigged elections.

But what they are not used to is the growing rise of extremism around the country from the rugged mountains of Waziristan to the pristine avenues of Islamabad.

For a country armed with nuclear weapons, ordinary people are getting scared of the future.

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore. He is the author of three books including Taliban and, most recently, Jihad. He has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia for the past 25 years and also writes for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Daily Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal.

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

I am the silent majority and still have trust and confidence in President Musharraf. I can swear that he is the only president/head of state to be honest, dedicated and fearless. Admittedly he is surrounded with a large number of problems and I pray that he is able to come out solving all of them. May Allah give him long life and courage to face all the fronts boldly.
Abbas Karachiwala, Pakistan

The Supreme Court was given unprecedented independence, but now there's an attempt to muzzle it along with the media reporting who are reporting the story. I think that President Musharraf has unleashed forces he can no longer control. I'm sad about this turn of events. I just hope this morass leads to something better when it's resolved, but it will be a painful process for Pakistanis.
Riaz Haq, USA

Well, there is no way back for President Musharraf. He should have left the presidency quite a while ago. You cannot dictate to people against their wills for long. Another example of the failure of a dictator trying to rule people against their wishes just to please leaders elsewhere in the world.
Ahsan, Pakistan

I notice that people of Pakistani origin who live outside of their country are very fond of giving their comments about Pakistan. The problem is that in some cases, these people who are materialistic and self serving. Every government in Pakistan since its inception has used the judiciary and government departments for its own purposes. This government is not alone in this regard. The people who are now protesting used exactly the same tactics when they were in power.
Shehzad, Pakistan

Mr Rashid belongs to a class of people who only see a glass half-empty. No doubt President Musharraf has limitations, and his style of governance may be far from perfect. But the actions that he has taken against the militants are unprecedented in Pakistan's history.
Raju, Mumbai

I agree that most problems are prevalent in Pakistan and that it will take a while before we reach a stage where things run more smoothly, but until then, instead of pointing fingers we should understand the problems and derive solutions. We must all realise that Pakistan has no other option. "But what about democracy?" I hear you say. Democracy is premature for Pakistan, and until we are ready for it we should learn to come up with more viable solutions.
NN, Pakistan

Pakistan is slowly turning into a "failed state" due to rise in militancy, violence and religious intolerance with neighbours. A failed Pakistan is not in the interests of India and other neighbouring countries because, anytime nuclear weapons can land in the hands of Jehadis. Hence whether one likes or dislikes it, there is no alternative to General Musharraf as leader of Pakistan.
SS Vinekar, India

It's time the Pakistani government and the rest of the world - especially the United States - realised that the solution to the twin problems of extremism and terrorism plaguing every corner of the world at present is NOT military action. Not in Afghanistan, not in Iraq, not in Waziristan, not in Islamabad, not in Madrid or London or even the US of A. The more you try and "bomb out" militants, the more strength and support they gain. By targeting innocent civilians in all conflict zones, you are turning ordinary people into militants and extremists. In Pakistan, as long as Musharraf's regime continues to target civilians in Balochistan and suppress the public on one hand, and inflict policies of "enlightened moderation" on the other, the average Pakistani who's basic values are being threatened and who is facing systematic injustice will turn to extreme measures, including militancy.
Zainab, Pakistan

President Musharraf is unleashing his cards for the final round. His bargaining position with the US and Europe for controlling and transferring "terrorists" in return for acceptance of his uniformed-presidency is not likely to yield more fruit. In his recent dispute with the judiciary, he seems to have been jolted by the reaction of the media and the legal establishment over his efforts to remove the country's top judge.
Sadiq Hassan, Pakistan

What most sensible Pakistanis have known for the last five years, the facts and truth, is finally being voiced and demonstrated to the rest of the World. The Military establishment has for long served its own interests - power, self and perpetuation - for far too long and at the cost of the common people, by creating the unfortunate environment where the world is being told that civil (democratic?) society is incapable of securing the peace, tranquillity and economic success/growth of its people. SHAME!! SHAME!!
MS, India

Well I believe the country is doing much better than ever. If we talk about bomb blasts and similar issues, this was all there before.
Atif Mirza, Cyprus

Yet another one of Ahmed Rashid's Musharraf bashing drivel. I'd take his articles more seriously if they were not so blatantly biased. The only thing he hasn't blamed Musharraf for is the state of our cricket team. If you read this article, you'd think Pakistan was falling apart at the seams. That is certainly not the case. Pakistan definitely does have more than it's share of problems, but it's not as if it's one storm in the midst of an oasis of peace. We have Iran and Afghanistan on our West and India to our East. It's not as if any of these countries are basking in peace. I don't mean to engage in India-bashing, but many people often forget the crimes Indian security forces have committed in Kashmir, and the fact that 400 million people there live in poverty. Pakistan does have it's problems, but they are certainly not as insurmountable or all Musharraf's fault as Ahmed Rashid would have everyone believe.
Atif Rahman, Islamabad, Pakistan

The illiterate extremists (Please note: they are not "Muslim" extremists) in Pakistan are the primary root of Pakistan's problems. This group has been a major stumbling block in Pakistan's bid to surge forward with the rest of the growing Asian economy. I don't refer to the Taliban - I'm referring to the extremist Sunni (and Shia) Pakistanis not associated with internationally recognised religious groups. Can you please use the BBC platform to encourage the media world to not refer to "Islamic extremists" as "Islamic" or "Muslim"? If one engages in senseless and irrational violence (usually of an extreme nature) to express oneself, he/she is not a follower of Islam - so please don't call him/her a Muslim. The world must have a way (media) to convince these brainwashed individuals that they are not actually Muslims - This might just discourage impressionable young men and women from taking up arms in the name of Allah if they are constantly reminded that their actions will take them further away from their religion.
Adnan Ozair, Pakistan

I feel ashamed to call myself a Pakistani. When will President Musharraf for once stop acting like a US agent and do what is in the interests of the region and the country?
Syed Mohsin, Pakistan

This story is an eye opener for India and western countries. Day by day the internal law and order situation in Pakistan is becoming worse. The current situation in Balochistan is critical and militant groups are operating from Pakistan with the support of its intelligence agency. To make matters even more worrying, Pakistan is not able to strengthen its economy, most of the business units are closing down, poverty is increasing, hardliners are becoming stronger and there is a near-total collapse of the machinery of government.
Rohit Joshi, India

It's time for Musharraf to pack up and go home. He can't do any better for the country except take it down. The generals should leave it to the citizens of Pakistan to manage the country on their own. The army's "patriotism" has done more harm to the nation than good.
Loren Michel, California, USA

I blame President Musharraf for all the problems because his only motive is to prolong his stay in power. We had expectations that he would make a difference when he came in power even though it was unlawful. But he has done nothing during his eight years of rule - in fact things have taken a turn for the worse. We want to get rid of him now, and that can only happen when the army go back to their barracks and pave the way for a democratically elected government.
Naseer Ahmad, Pakistan

All that is written in the article is no doubt true, but I sincerely believe that articles like these do no-one any good. I can come up with longer articles listing the atrocities committed and internal and external political crisis for countries including the USA, India, Israel and the UK. But that's the worst thing I can do. The right thing is to see how these things can be solved. Singling out one country is unfair, and shows the ignorance of the media which has turned its back on any moral and ethical codes that could make this world a more peaceful place to live in.
Timoor, Sweden

Unfortunately for Musharraf, the militants now don't seem to care that they are biting the hand that once fed them! He has created a Frankenstein monster which has its own head, and only its complete destruction will ensure that Pakistan as well as the other Islamic states can return to civil society.
Nivedita Nadkarni, U.S.A

It seems Pakistan is a future Yugoslavia. Punjabis and Sindhis will never be agree to live under any kind of Islamic rule, whereas Pashtuns are more orthodox. As far as the Balochs are concerned, they never felt themselves as Pakistanis. Therefore the future of Pakistan as a unitary state is uncertain to say the least.
Muhammad, England

How a single person can run a country efficiently? Right now, the president does not have the support of good people, and he is even losing the support of corrupt supporters one by one. Pakistan definitely needs true democracy supported by a fair and brave judiciary, otherwise the president cannot do anything, no matter how intelligent or brave he could be! He must understand that his dictatorship is creating frustration in the country, which is not good for anyone in the end.
Zaheer Abbas, Germany

It seems like President Musharraf is digging a grave not only for himself but also for the future of this nation, which is so proud of its civilisation.
Sons of the Soil Pakland, Pakistan

Yes, you are very right to point out the problem with extremism. Actually the president's "one man show" is harming Pakistan in unrecoverable way, he should stop blind support for America now, try to hold an election where he is not a candidate for the presidency and go for retirement. Only true democracy can solve the problems faced by Pakistan.
M Khurram, Germany

t is very irritating to me that lawyers and members of political parties took the law into their own hands long before they knew what the chief justice is accused of. Why can't they wait to hear the judgment of the supreme court? Many people say that they want to see our institutions strengthened, but how can we do that if we are not prepared to wait and let them function before we start attacking them? My message to my countrymen is to be patient and let the higher authorities deal with the matter.
Faraz Hussain Naqvi, USA

What an accurate and "matter of fact" article this is. Pakistan is no longer functioning as a sovereign state. There are too many Islamic terror groups operating within the country, which the government does nothing about, affecting all its neighbours - particularly Afghanistan and India - and creating chaos internally. The government makes no effort to destroy these militant jihadist groups, and Pakistan is not progressing as a society and civilisation. It relies on the US to keep it afloat.
Vida, UK

Apart from full martial law (which is not unprecedented but nevertheless not desired by anyone) the general's options are very limited - he can launch a crackdown and please the west, but this will only trigger a massive backlash from religious and non-religious sections of society. That in turn will reveal cracks within the military itself which would deeply concern the west, with the nuclear factor all thrown in the mix.



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