- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

Pakistan is rife with talk that President Pervez Musharraf will not be handing in his military uniform at the end of the year, as promised. Gen. Musharraf’s ultimate decision could impact Pakistani stability and U.S. counter-terror operations.

Until now, Gen. Musharraf has handled ably his dual role as head of state and head of the military. His stewardship has been notably clean, with scant allegations of corruption on the part of the president or his inner circle. Also, Gen. Musharraf has presided over a rapprochement with India and has launched a grass-roots effort to boost democratic representation on a local level. More negatively, reports that Pakistan shared nuclear technology and hardware with North Korea, Iran and Libya have been made public under the Musharraf government, although the proliferation appears to have taken place before he was president (Gen. Musharraf did head the army during part of the period in question).

Now come indications that Gen. Musharraf may be considering maintaining his military leadership. Pakistan’s information minister said recently that Gen. Musharraf would not be dropping his military post at year’s end, but later said it was only his own “hope” the president would stay in the position. Such a move would help Gen. Musharraf maintain the loyalty of the corps, but there are risks involved.

In December 2003, Gen. Musharraf promised a coalition of religious parties, known as the MMA, that he would step down as military chief at the end of 2004, in exchange for support for constitutional changes that granted him broad authority. He is slated to stay on as president until elections in 2007.

If Gen. Musharraf’s reneges on his own pledge, he could face considerable problems with the MMA, which won control of the critical North-West Frontier and Baluchistan Provinces in the 2002 parliamentary elections. Any problems between Gen. Musharraf and the MMA would complicate U.S. counter-terror missions along the Afghanistan-Pakistani border.

That region, where ethnic Pashtuns reside on both sides of the border, historically has been staunchly resistant to federal rule. Under Gen. Musharraf, troops have conducted some unprecedented raids in the area. These kinds of missions would be put in jeopardy if the MMA breaks with Gen. Musharraf, who already has been targeted by two-well-coordinated assassination attempts.

On the other hand, if Gen. Musharraf judges he must keep personal control of the army in order to assure his capacity to govern, non-Pakistani commentators are in no position to question his judgment.

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