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Pervez Musharraf Faces Challenges


Since assuming power in a bloodless coup in 1999 that overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sherif's government, Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, has survived several assassination attempts and many political crises. But many analysts say his troubles are far from over.

By most accounts, General Pervez Musharraf has a grand vision for Pakistan, one that seeks to put it on a path of what he calls "Enlightened Moderation."

President Musharraf, the son of an educated, politically and socially moderate family, is turning his vision into reality by trying to modernize the country's educational system and reduce poverty. It is the effort of a man who believes he is destined to rule, according to Stephen Cohen, a foreign policy analyst at The Brookings Institution.

"He's a man who has a very high opinion of himself based on his performance in the Army and his professional education and his training. He believes - - and I think others would agree - - because Pakistan has a shortage of civilian leaders, that's why the military has to be involved. He once compared himself to Ataturk [i.e., Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey] and said Ataturk was his role model. But clearly, he's a man who has a larger vision of things and believes that he can do great things for Pakistan and for the world," says Cohen.

The fate of Democracy

After his 1999 coup, General Musharraf, who was the Army's Chief of Staff, proclaimed himself Chief Executive of Pakistan. The following year, he declared himself President - - a move that was widely protested. To legitimize his rule, he held a referendum in 2002 that was boycotted by opposition groups and criticized for irregularities. Now, most observers worry that next year's general elections could be rigged, despite Islamabad's assurances of fairness and transparency.

But Xenia Dormandy, Executive Director for Research at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says Pervez Musharraf is in a difficult situation, given Pakistan's political turmoil, its war on terror and its relations with its neighbors and the United States. "He is squeezed between his relationship with the U.S. and our desires, the improving relationship with India, the historical relationship with Afghanistan and, at the same time, domestic political constraints, and the long-term tribal interests of much of his population," says Dormandy.

It's a Tough Job

Some experts who view the General in a sympathetic light agree. Among them is analyst Michael Krepon, co-founder of the non-profit Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, who adds that the complexities of Pakistani society must be taken into account when looking at Pervez Musharraf. He says, "The different provinces of Pakistan don't cohere very well. It really takes an adept political touch to keep the different parts of the country in close alignment. And, typically, generals who become presidents are not the most adept at doing this. And it's not so surprising that Pakistan would now be facing some difficulties in the tribal belt, in Baluchistan. So this is a very difficult job that President Musharraf has. But he's doing his best."

Some observers say the Pakistani leader has been learning on the job and changing. In the process, he has become a skilled politician. But the Brookings Institution's Steven Cohen warns that, while President Musharraf has been able to handle his opponents for the time being, his troubles are far from over.

"He's able to balance off his opposition and stay in power. But it's really a tight wire act. It's a juggling act and one that, if he slips, could lead Pakistan into crisis. I would be surprised if we don't see a major domestic political crisis in Pakistan. The general elections could precipitate a domestic political crisis," says Cohen.

But some experts say President Musharraf still holds the country's political reigns and may play opposition politicians against each other to strengthen his own position, come election time.

Meanwhile, the Stimson Center's Michael Krepon says President Musharraf has based his popular support on the state of the economy and economic reform, which may not be to his advantage.

"He's no longer coming across as a reformer. He hasn't really answered the mail with respect to a reform agenda. The moderate progressive enlightened Islamic country that he seeks to build - - he has a lot of work to do there," says Michael Krepon. "And many Pakistanis will point out how little has been done on this particular agenda. Some things have [been done], but not a whole lot. In education and public health, there have been some positive developments. But he has been in office for quite some time now."

Since coming to power, President Musharraf has moved aggressively to privatize the economy, reduce poverty and Pakistan's foreign debt, and allow the press more freedom.

Pervez Musharraf's Legacy

Some observes say he would like to have a positive legacy. But The Brookings Institution's Steven Cohen says this is not going to be easy because these types of changes typically take a long time. "He's going to have a difficult time leaving a permanent imprint on Pakistan, partly because the material he is dealing with is so intractable. He'd like to get an agreement on Kashmir. But India is not into compromising much more, if at all, even though Musharraf has come a long way in terms of Pakistan's position," says Cohen. "He'd like to reform Pakistani politics and the Pakistan economy. But that's very, very hard to do, in part, because politics can't be reformed from the top and, in part, because the economy has been so badly abused over the decades and it's in a really serious shape."

Even those who would like to see Pervez Musharraf's "enlightened" vision for Pakistan succeed warn that there is no telling what next year's election may bring.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.