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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 12:52 GMT
Why Musharraf needs European help
By Jill McGivering
BBC News

President Musharraf being sworn in (file pic)
Mr Musharraf's position at home has become more tenuous
President Pervez Musharraf's visit to Europe was planned months ago when the political landscape looked very different.

By now, the elections should have been held.

If Benazir Bhutto were still alive, she might well have been the new prime minister - probably part of a power-sharing deal with President Musharraf, awkward but functional for the short term.

Instead, President Musharraf's position is far less secure.

Foul play

As he travels across Europe, he will be eager to present himself as an honest broker.

Lawyers in Pakistan protest against the emergency (13 December 2007)
Mr Musharraf is accused of restricting the judiciary

He wants to convince the rest of the world that the public pledges he keeps making are genuine: that the postponed elections next month will be free and fair.

That his real goal is for a smooth transition of power to the new government. And also that, if the road is rocky, he is Pakistan's best hope of stability.

It's unclear though how convinced European leaders will be.

The EU has agreed to send an observation mission.

But there's certainly a general concern about how transparent and unbiased the elections will be.

One concern is about the on-the-day voting. Monitors on the ground will be looking for signs of rigging, ballot box stuffing, intimidation or other forms of foul play.

They will report too on the fairness of the overall environment.

The tampering with the judiciary, for example.

Top judges, who were critical of President Musharraf and refused to take an oath of loyalty to him during the state of emergency, lost their jobs.

They haven't been re-instated.

Army loyalty

As President Musharraf set off to Europe, the ban on the popular TV station, Geo TV, was finally eased.

That will be widely seen as a positive step - but the media still face restrictions. And neither the Election Commission nor the interim government is viewed as impartial.

So President Musharraf's need for foreign friends has probably never been greater.

At home, his position has been repeatedly weakened.

His imposition of the state of emergency was generally unpopular.

He's been forced to step down as head of the armed forces, a previous source of strength.

Pakistani soldier
The army is under pressure to retreat from politics

The loyalty of his successor, Gen Kayani, has yet to be tested - but he may heed public pressure on the army to retreat from politics as democracy is restored.

Benazir Bhutto's dramatic murder has led to continuing sympathy for her party and family.

There is also a lingering sense of suspicion about who might have been responsible for her death.

For many, there's a general sense of disillusionment with the whole political process.

President Musharraf's own focus at the moment seems to be on possible chaos immediately after the election.

In a recent briefing to newspaper editors, he described the transition to democracy as one of three crises facing the country.

Some opposition parties might refuse to accept the results, he said. They might claim the elections had been rigged.

This would only be, he added, because they were disappointed with their performance.

But his comments seem an attempt to prepare Pakistan for possible post-election instability.

Opposition parties could indeed reject the results.

It's also likely that, if there's no clear winner, a difficult period of jostling and in-fighting will follow - in which President Musharraf too will be fighting for influence.

Were that to happen, and with his stock at home so low, President Musharraf will need all the international support he can get.

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