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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 October 2007, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Has Musharraf outfoxed his foes?
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

Poster of Gen Pervez Musharraf and a supporter
Gen Musharraf's supporters are celebrating
Nothing defined Saturday's presidential election in Pakistan as much as the scene outside the North West Frontier Province provincial assembly.

A group of enraged lawyers and political activists attacked an armoured personnel carrier.

As scores of security troops stood silently by, the demonstrators wreaked their impotent fury on the battened-down hatches.

It was all to little effect, as the protesters well knew.

Frustrated, they finally set fire to the only unprotected part they could find - the tyres - before moving on.

At that point, the vehicle, its tyres aflame, drove away.

Battle after battle

Gen Pervez Musharraf's recent fortunes have gone much the same way.

After he suspended Pakistan's top judge, the opposition against him gained a new impetus.

The political storm that emerged proved to be his greatest challenge yet.

Poster of Gen Pervez Musharraf and a supporter
If you put a gun to the nation's head, the election will take place
Asma Jehangir
Senior lawyer

Initially, he tried to take the opposition on. It seemed like the general was on his last campaign.

Battle after battle was lost, as the lawyers' movement and their political allies battered his regime.

But his strategy, since the return of the chief justice to his post, has been to close down all fronts.

The result is that, despite all that has been said and done, Gen Musharraf has achieved what he set out to do this year - assuming the courts agree.

He has contested presidential elections while remaining head of Pakistan's army.

And, according to the Election Commission, he won by a landslide.

"It will be a great victory for the president and democracy," said Mushahid Hussain Syed, secretary-general of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) party.

Bhutto deal

"We can look forward to an era of reconciliation with all political forces."

The Supreme Court, which is debating the legality of Gen Musharraf standing for president while army chief, must first give its assent.

It allowed Saturday's election to be held but said that a winner must not be declared before it rules, some time after 17 October.

Gen Musharraf's opponents say this is a moral victory for them, as the court has not endorsed his candidature.

KEY DATES
Pakistani ex-PM Benazir Bhutto
06 Oct: Presidential vote is held
17 Oct: Supreme Court to resume hearing challenges to Musharraf candidacy
18 Oct: Date ex-PM Benazir Bhutto has set for her homecoming
15 Nov: Parliamentary term ends and general election must be held by mid-January

Some analysts believe it leaves a sword of Damocles hanging over the general's head.

Others believe it has strengthened the position of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who is negotiating a power-sharing deal with the president.

Analysts say that - with corruption charges against her now dropped and Gen Musharraf's election still to be ratified - she has more room to push for concessions.

But others believe the fact the election has gone ahead is a fait accompli which the court will find it hard to overturn.

Some of the president's opponents now feel they have lost the battle.

Asma Jehangir, a senior lawyer and leading human rights campaigner, says: "If you put a gun to the nation's head, the election will take place ... There is no way people can stop it."

Her colleagues believe there is still hope in the courts, but she disagrees.

"The Supreme Court is not ready to take a difficult decision," she says. "Since the chief justice was restored, they have taken the middle of the road."

But she and others believe the court case should still be pursued, even if it ends in defeat.

Struggle 'lost'

"Even if they do lose, it will leave behind a controversial judgement."

But such moral lessons are perhaps lost in Pakistan, where all that seems to matter is who wins.

As always, members of the public have little say in determining the course of events.

Ms Jehangir asks: "How much can they struggle with a military that is adamant about staying?"

That question appears to go to the heart of Pakistan's current political reality.



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Tightened security on election day in Islamabad



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