The Economist on Musharraf’s uniform

An opinion that could well have come from the Acorn

General Musharraf’s decision to remain in uniform is a setback for the future of Pakistan

It was not a surprise, but it is still a disappointment. In December, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, citing the need for “unity of command”, confirmed that he would not keep a promise to give up his job as head of the armed forces by the end of 2004 and turn himself into a civilian leader. This is trebly depressing.

By choosing to remain a general Mr Musharraf is, first, breaking the pledge he gave his parliament in return for its accepting the legitimacy of a president who helped himself to power in a coup. Second, the decision is an ominous sign that he may now be following the path trodden by Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq, previous generals who seized power promising to restore democracy, only to find one-man rule so much more congenial. The third and less obvious depressing thing about Mr Musharraf’s decision is that he is likely to get a free pass from the outside world. That is to say, neither America nor any other western power will press him hard to change his mind.

This is a mistake, even if it is an understandable one…

The devil-you-know argument is fine as far as it goes. Its defect is the one that applies to all dictatorships: a policy built on one man is a policy built on sand. Although Mr Musharraf is plainly a man the West can do business with, it is equally plain that he will not be around for ever—even if he continues to dodge the Islamic extremists’ persistent attempts to assassinate him. Meanwhile, the hope that he would use his presidency to restore and strengthen democratic institutions in Pakistan is waning. Apart from failing to doff his uniform, he has not made his peace with the secular opposition. He has not acted seriously against the madrassas. It is not clear whether he has purged the army and intelligence services of their own religious extremists. Though he has hunted down foreign terrorists who threaten his own life, he has done less to root out Pakistan’s home-grown terrorists, who are increasingly active. And when Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s bomb, was found to have been selling nuclear secrets far and wide, Mr Musharraf let him off for an apology.

Pakistan is a volatile place. This makes it tempting to take Mr Musharraf at his own estimation as a good egg, better able than outsiders to judge how to balance the army, the mosques and the democrats, and how fast he can creep towards modernity. But wishful thinking based on a presumption of good intentions is no policy. The world may come to regret its failure to hold the general more strictly to his many promises. [The Economist]

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