Running from Musharraf

President Pervez Musharraf says that he now plans to give up his uniform if he wins the indirect presidential elections scheduled for October 6. But, with his opponents refusing to cut a deal, the US recognizing that it needs a partner with a modicum of legitimacy, and the military getting nervous, his options for holding onto power are shrinking rapidly.

How times change the man. Pakistan’s embattled president, Pervez Musharraf, once declared, “I am not at all a politician. I don’t think I’m cut out for politics.” Eight years after seizing power and exiling his main civilian opponents, the general is moving heaven and earth to hold on to political office.

Though he took power in a bloodless coup, there was little doubt about his popularity at the time. The public had tired of a civilian regime marked by corruption and economic chaos. Musharraf’s personal frankness and integrity appealed to the street and earned him de facto legitimacy.

The general, who offered the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, as his model, also seemed to represent a vision for his country that combined economic growth with support for secularizing impulses. But, given his unwillingness to seek support for his regime and his policies from the ballot box, Musharraf succeeded in undermining both. Over the years, he rigged referendums, browbeat the judiciary, and asked Islamic parties for support to shore up his government. A president’s modernizing vision degenerated into a dictator’s power-driven myopia.

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