- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf has appointed a close ally as his army deputy in what is seen as a step toward promoting himself to president — a bad sign for those who seek a quick return to civilian rule.
Gen. Musharraf reopened the post of deputy army chief and gave the job to Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Hussain Usmani, a close friend who was heavily involved in the coup that brought Gen. Musharraf to power 18 months ago.
It is the first time the post has been occupied since the rule of the last military dictator, Gen. Zia-ul Haq.
Lt. Gen. Usmani is expected to take over day-to-day control of the army when he takes up his appointment later this month, leaving Gen. Musharraf free to concentrate on running the country.
Lt. Gen. Usmani, who has trained at Britains Royal College of Defense Studies, will remain a three-star general for now. He is due to retire from the army early next year but could easily be kept on as a deputy or vice chief.
Gen. Musharraf, Pakistans self-styled "chief executive," has said he will not retire as army chief when his term ends in October and has hinted he will appoint himself president.
Although the general has promised to hold elections by October next year, in line with a Supreme Court ruling, it now seems likely he will increase presidential powers and remain as Pakistans leader under a civilian government.
In an interview with a leading Pakistani news magazine, he refused to rule out the possibility that he would take over as president.
Asked if his presence was needed after the promised elections in October 2002, he said: "I really think that my role is required."
He added: "If any Pakistani thinks that the army should just confine itself to the barracks, to its training and think nothing of other activities in the nation, that is not the reality on the ground."
Gen. Musharraf has created a National Security Council, which brings together the three armed forces chiefs and a small number of the most senior ministers. The council is expected to remain under a civilian government and dictate policy in the most sensitive areas, particularly on nuclear weapons, Kashmir and relations with Afghanistans hard-line Taliban militia.
Politicians and newspapers have voiced concern about the prospect of another military government. Pakistan has spent more than half its 54-year history under military rule.
"This is a sign that elections, whenever they are held, will not mean a restoration to the people of undiluted sovereignty, but will involve significant military involvement," the English-language newspaper the Nation said of the military reshuffle.
"In reality, power will continue to rest with the establishment, despite its track record of not giving much confidence in its ability to solve the multifarious problems facing the country."
A large faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), the political party that was in power at the time of the coup, has broken with its former leader, the deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and now appears ready to accept the general as president.
"We are in favor of bringing about checks and balances in the political system," said Mian Muhammad Azhar, the partys new president.
His side of the party wants Gen. Musharraf to restore the parliament that was suspended on the day of the coup and in which the PML held a significant majority. Party sources say if the parliament is restored they would be prepared to indemnify Gen. Musharraf for his actions since the start of the coup.
"In order for the military to get this period legitimized, the next parliament has to indemnify what they have done, and for that reason has to be president so he can control parliament," said Najam Sethi, editor of the Friday Times, Pakistans most respected newspaper.
On the night of the coup, Lt. Gen. Usmani, who was the corps commander for Karachi, played a key role.
Minutes after Sharif announced that Gen. Musharraf had been fired as army chief, Lt. Gen. Usmanis men secured control of Karachi airport.
Gen. Musharraf, who was flying back to Pakistan from a visit to Sri Lanka, landed safely at Karachi and later that night arrested Sharif and took control of the country. The former prime minister was later convicted of hijacking Gen. Musharrafs plane and sent into exile.
Other top generals also may be rewarded with promotions for their loyalty, in particular Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, the head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and Lt. Gen. Mohammad Yusuf Khan, the chief of General Staff.
From the day he took power, Gen. Musharraf has hampered his nations politicians. He has severely limited all political activity and banned public rallies. More than 2,000 political activists were detained last week to prevent a protest rally in Karachi on May Day.


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