- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000

As President Clinton contemplates the possibility of a visit to India later this year, he should consider a stop in Pakistan, as well. The country very much needs our engagement. Pakistan's "chief executive" Gen. Pervez Musharraf is anxious to ensure a fair trial for the officials whose regime he overthrew in a bloodless military coup three months ago. The general has promised to restore a "true" democracy to Pakistan.
Confronted with a multitude of charges ranging from conspiracy, embezzlement, fraud, kidnapping to attempted murder ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his co-defendants, all of them in solitary confinement or in protective custody, are currently on trial in the anti-terrorism court, established by Mr. Sharif some time ago, or waiting to be prosecuted in another court of justice.
During a recent visit to Ankara, I had an opportunity to talk to the serious and engagingly uncharismatic 56-year-old general. It soon became clear that a "democracy with substance" ranks foremost on his agenda. His goal, he asserts time and again, is a representative government with a power base solidly anchored at the grass-roots level. One of Mr. Musharraf's most compelling points is his effort to wipe out fraud and corruption by the decentralization of power. For him, this means fiscal autonomy for the provincial districts, including revenue collection.
Envisioned is a federalism that empowers the districts to make their own decisions. Next to tax and election reforms, Mr. Musharraf focuses on the restoration of civil rights and uprooting the corruption of a feudal regime that became the hallmark of Pakistan's administrative system. Government corruption has cost the nation some $4 billion, wrecking the economy. He promises transparency, freedom of the press and accountability.
Aware that the ground-breaking institutionalization of democracy will take time, a timetable for general elections has not been set. But by keeping his pledge to bring democracy to the grass-roots level with a call for impartial local elections by the end of this year, he has so far managed to disarm his critics in the feudal system and the tribal belt. Once the return to democracy is assured and fundamental rights creating a political climate of stability that would give reforms and free elections a chance for success are in place, Mr. Musharraf vows to fade away from the political stage. "I am a soldier and not a politician and will remain a soldier," he tells his audiences. This is, of course, what Gen. Mohammed Zia also promised, and he remained in power for 11 years.
The revival of the moribund economy by means of structural reforms, privatization and confidence-building measures to attract domestic and foreign investments takes precedence. An additional objective is the restoration of the "honor and dignity of the country and its ability to stand on its own feet." By not "begging" for costly loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the general intends to demonstrate his faith in the country's own resources. Austerity, tax reforms, measures that help state-owned industries to become profitable, support for industry and agriculture, and incentives for foreign investors among them ironclad guarantees against nationalization define the steps to economic recovery.
Asked about his foreign policy goals, Mr. Musharraf foresees no changes. However, nuances are ascertained in his independent approach to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Irrespective of India, he plans to pursue the national consensus approach in this vital nuclear issue. Regarding the tense relations between the two youngest nuclear powers, he points to Kashmir as the main problem. Though the general ordered the withdrawal of some Pakistani troops from that volatile area, Indian sources charge that it was not from the crucial Line of Control. To defuse the dangerous Kashmir issue, he advocates a plebiscite along the lines of the U.N. resolution of 1949 that, according to India, has long since been superseded by three wars between the two countries and a number of new agreements.
Of special interest is Mr. Musharraf's close relationship with Turkey, where he spent part of his youth. It was no accident that shortly after his military takeover he visited his "second home" to intensify economic and military ties. An admirer of Turkey's orientation to the West under Kemal Ataturk's decisive guidance, when he propelled that nation into modern times, he hopes to follow those footsteps. He regards Pakistan as a "moderate Islamic state where no extremists have been voted into government" and is eager to correct Western impressions of close connections to the Taliban.
While Mr. Musharraf may or may not fulfill his role as the Ataturk of Pakistan, he is not without opponents in his own camp. As time passes, some former military comrades, impatient with the pace of progress of their rebellion, seem ready to play the fundamentalist card. Considering such developments, it is time for the West to remove the obstacles from Mr. Musharraf's path and strengthen his chances to live up to the image of his heroic Turkish role model.

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