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By Gary Thomas
Washington
09 November 2007

At the heart of the current political crisis enveloping Pakistan is Pervez Musharraf's insistence on holding on to his military rank as chief of the army while remaining president. The military has been the key power broker throughout Pakistan's 60 year history.  As VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, General Musharraf needs its support to sustain his rule, and to take the controversial step of declaring a state of emergency.

President Pervez Musharraf makes speech in Islamabad, 08 Nov 2007
President Pervez Musharraf makes speech in Islamabad, 08 Nov 2007
When General Musharraf declared a state of emergency, he cited an increase in terrorist attacks and alleged judicial interference in anti-terrorist efforts as reasons for the move. 

But as Larry Goodson, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, points out, opposition activists and supporters of ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry were rounded up instead of pro-Taliban militants. 

"It's hard for me to know just how much of that is inflated for the folks in Washington, because it seems to me that the state of emergency [imposed], because of the ostensibly evil terrorists, has actually been used to hammer the democracy demonstrators and lawyers supporting Chaudhry and all that rather than to hammer the extremists up along the border," he noted.

Police arrest an anti-Musharraf demonstrator in Peshawar, Pakistan, 08 Nov 2007
Police arrest an anti-Musharraf demonstrator in Peshawar, Pakistan, 08 Nov 2007
Pakistan's 60-year history is full of swings back and forth between civilian government and military rule.  But even when not in direct control, the military has always been a power broker.   During the 1990s, it backed the president in firing the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.  General Musharraf mounted a direct coup against Sharif in 1999 and has been in power ever since.

Former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who served in Pakistan, says the military harbors a deep distrust of the country's civilian political elite.

"The military is of course now involved in [fighting] insurgencies it wasn't trained for," he said.  "It's now involved to some extent in this state of emergency.  And, I think they put up with Musharraf and support Musharraf, because the tradition of civilian rule in Pakistan is one of just blatant thievery.  Sooner or later, the military has to intervene to prevent the country from going bankrupt.  So, I don't think the generals particularly have any great love for Musharraf, but he may be the best bet in town at the moment."

General Musharraf is reluctant to give up his military job while president, analysts say, for fear he would lose the military's loyalty.  But it is not clear, they add, how strong his support is among the key senior officers.
  
In recent months, the Bush Administration has been urging General Musharraf to crack down on the pro-Taliban and al-Qaida elements attacking U.S. and coalition forces across the border in Afghanistan from safe havens in the rough and wild tribal areas along the border.

Christine Fair, a Washington-based analyst of Pakistan affairs, says the Pakistani military has been unhappy about General Musharraf's bending to U.S. wishes for aggressive counter-terrorism operations against Pakistanis on its own soil.  What is puzzling, she says, is why the army would back a state of emergency that might drag it further into a domestic enforcement role.

"Knowing what we think we know about the army's support for him and these kinds of decisions, and given the army's already deep and pervasive and dangerous ambivalence about these counterterrorism [operations], the relevance of Pakistan engaging in these kinds of operations against its own people, why then would he put them headlong into a situation where, increasingly, if its gets nasty, they're going to be involved? None of this makes sense to me."

Some analysts believe the government will revert back to negotiating treaties with pro-Taliban tribes along the border.  But such moves on top of the state of emergency, analysts say, would heighten calls in the U.S. Congress to cut aid to Pakistan.

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