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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

OCTOBER 29, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 43

Is This Man Starting to Enjoy Power?
Musharraf may be in charge for a while. Pakistanis aren't griping. Yet
By ANTHONY DAVIS

He is a military hawk close to Islamist radicals fighting a holy war in Kashmir; he is committed to the Taliban war for national domination in Afghanistan; he is wary of the West. He is a thoughtful moderate, appalled at Pakistan's economic and social morass; he is anxious to attract foreign investment and financial aid; he is eager to restore functional, secular democracy. Will the real Pervez Musharraf please stand up?

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Pakistan: Is This Man Starting to Enjoy Power? Musharraf may be in charge for a while. Pakistanis aren't griping. Yet

United States: Fallout on Capitol Hill Domestic squabbles nix an international nuclear accord

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Diplomats and international financiers are understandably keen to see Musharraf as a moderate. And Pakistan's new chief executive has been quick to assuage fears about the world's first military-run nuclear-armed nation. He has made conciliatory noises toward India. He has vowed to put in place a government with civilians in high places. This particular Musharraf has done photo ops with his family, dressed casual.

The other Pervez Musharraf is standing in the wings. He may be starting to enjoy power - or at least feel duty-bound to stay around for a couple of years - but this Musharraf has cut lots of deals to get there. He has made friends with fundamentalist parties that also wanted to dump Nawaz Sharif and Co. Musharraf must keep on-side the religious right, with its street power. "Pakistan is in for a rough ride over the next couple of years," says William Maley of the Australian Defense Academy. "Musharraf needs to guard against a situation in which people will blame him for economic problems. Co-opting the Islamic opposition would make sense." Musharraf also needs to impress the growing number of officers who back the Islamists.

It is in Musharraf's best interest to hold to his militaristic line. Sure, he pulled his troops back from the border with India, but Musharraf is a hawk on Kashmir. Like all Pakistan's generals, the former special forces commando views Kashmir as a touchstone of national honor; resolution of the dispute is basic to improved relations with India. Musharraf presided over the risky Kargil operation earlier this year during which army troops and their Islamist brothers-in-arms inflicted heavy casualties on India. While a repeat performance is unlikely any time soon, Indian unwillingness to negotiate over Kashmir will almost certainly mean continued army support for Kashmiri, Pakistani and assorted foreign militants battling India across the Line of Control. For several years the army has forged ties with such militant factions as Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Harkat ul-Mujahideen which have come to serve effectively as the sharp end of Pakistan foreign policy.

For similar reasons, Musharraf is unlikely to change Pakistan's policy toward Afghanistan and its Taliban rulers. He has expressed a wish to see "a truly representative government in Kabul," but as one Pakistani official points out: "He didn't spell out what he means by that." Remember: Pakistan has for years voiced support for a "broad-based government" in Afghanistan even as the military aided the Taliban with munitions, fuel and advice. "Representative government doesn't necessarily mean coalition government with the opposition brought in," points out an Afghanistan analyst. "It can equally well mean the victorious Taliban widening their base and bringing in other ethnic groups."

Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) oversees Afghan operations. Now that the Taliban have secured most of Afghanistan, many ISI officers are keen to see the militia complete its conquest. They believe that once the Taliban completely dominate Afghanistan, the international community will be forced to recognize the regime. Given the geopolitical stakes for Pakistan, Musharraf has good reason not to get in the way.

On the international scene, however, the situation is not nearly so clear-cut. The Taliban continue to harbor terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden; Washington is determined to bring him to justice for alleged involvement in embassy bombings in Africa. The Americans want Pakistan to use its unique influence with the Taliban to secure his extradition. Mounting U.S. pressure on Sharif and his hand-picked military intelligence chief Lt.-Gen. Khwaja Ziauddin (since sacked with his boss) forced the Sharif government to publicly condemn "terrorist training camps" in Afghanistan. U.S. pressure also prompted Ziauddin to visit Kandahar and request that the Taliban close the camps down. Last week a U.N. Security Council resolution gave the Taliban until Nov. 14 to hand over bin Laden or face sanctions. The Taliban dismissed the U.N. ultimatum the following day.

Musharraf now finds bin Laden his personal problem. No doubt, U.S. ambassador William Milam raised terrorism and bin Laden in his first meeting with the new chief executive; the Americans badly want bin Laden. But with the Saudi a national hero in Pakistan, any move by Musharraf to facilitate his handover would prompt an outcry at home. Pretty soon Pakistanis would be calling him a White House stooge, precisely what they dubbed Sharif after he ordered the army to quit Kargil at Bill Clinton's behest.

Pervez Musharraf has plenty of people to placate, and he has been moving slowly and deliberately since he grabbed power. The same man launched a border war with a nuclear neighbor. This is not time to be impetuous.

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