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Subcontinental Drift: Year of the General, Part One
Musharraf began with promise: he hasn't kept it
By APARISIM GHOSH

October 12, 2000
Web posted at 3:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 3:00 a.m. EDT

Exactly a year ago today, much of Pakistan rejoiced at the coup that brought General Pervez Musharraf to power. Fed up with the venality and misrule of successive civilian governments, many Pakistanis believed it would take a military dictator to put their very untidy house in order. Musharraf, they hoped, would crack down on widespread corruption, curb the suffocating influence of feudal landlords, beat back the gathering forces of religious extremism, resuscitate the comatose economy and restore Islamabad's image in the eyes of the world.

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  ASIAWEEK
Intelligence
The story behind today's news from the editors of Asiaweek

From Our Correspondent
Personal perspectives on the news
Read that last sentence again and you'll know exactly why there are no spontaneous street celebrations on the first anniversary of the dictator's power grab. After vowing to tackle Pakistan's pressing problems -- and showing some signs he meant it -- the general quickly backed into the comfort of that old excuse: "These things take time." Not surprisingly, as the plaintive editorials in Pakistan's still-free newspapers suggest, most people are simply relieved that things are not a lot worse than they were a year ago.

The pattern is now all too familiar: tough talk, followed by tepid action and then timid retreat. Consider the general's performance in three key areas:

 INTERACTIVE  
The Subcontinental Drift message board -- sound-off about the news in South Asia to TIME
 
CORRUPTION: The regime promised to take on every vested interest and bring to book every crooked politician and public servant. But after jailing deposed Prime Minister Mohammed Nawaz Sharif and a handful of his cronies, Musharraf has done little. Indeed, there are now rumblings about graft within the military regime and talk of kickbacks in arms deals.

ECONOMY: The general promised efficient tax collection (a task that has daunted every Pakistan ruler) and began a nationwide survey to identify and punish dodgers. But after irate shopkeepers launched a series of nationwide strikes, Musharraf apparently lost his appetite for tax reform. Nor has he shown any stomach for confronting the feudal landlords who hoard much of the country's wealth -- usually by less than legal means -- and pay little or no tax.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Shortly after seizing power, Musharraf made a grand tour of Southeast Asia's Muslim countries, evidently to reinforce the legitimacy of his rule and to raise much-needed loans and aid. To his great embarrassment, he received a lecture on democracy from Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad and a lukewarm welcome elsewhere. Relations with the U.S., Pakistan's old friend, took a turn for the worse with the coup, and things weren't helped when President Bill Clinton, on a brief stopover in Islamabad, pointedly called for restoration of democratic rule. Even China, Pakistan's new best friend, has proved less than enthusiastic to embrace Musharraf.

Next week, we'll look at the things Musharraf has done right. It will probably be a very short piece.

Note: What's YOUR take on Pervez Musharraf's year in power? And what do you expect from him in the year to come? Post your comments on the Subcontinental Drift bulletin board or email Time Asia.

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