Monday, March 19, 2007

Is Musharraf a goner?

When I last wrote about Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf back in January, the verdict was "not hot". Amazingly, it seems the General's fortunes have slipped even further since then.

Musharraf has faced intense criticism (and violent social unrest) over his recent attempts to remove a Supreme Court justice from the bench, citing vague "abuses of judicial authority". What on earth would prompt a man who fashions himself as a benevolent political reformer to tamper with Pakistan's judiciary?

From all appearances, Musharraf either believes he's in imminent danger of being ousted in a coup, or failing that, he's simply gone crazy. I'm tempted to believe both, as the general lashed out in the press against political figures he believes are conspiring against him. I'm tempted to dismiss Musharraf's rants about conspiracies as the demented ravings of a desperate dictator, but he may, in fact, be on to something.

Since achieving independence in 1947, the Pakistani government has been ruled, more often than not, by people who have seized power in military coup d'etats, including Pervez Musharraf himself. Amid mounting rumors of an impending coup, the leaders of Pakistan's military will be meeting this week, and Musharraf would be crazy not to suspect that a coup is in the works. Musharraf has to be especially wary of the state's feared secret services, the ISI, whose hostility to Pakistan's alliance with Washington (and whose support of Muslim terrorist organizations) is an open secret.

Musharraf has long had to walk a tightrope of appeasing the west as an ally on the war against terrorism, while taking care not to provoke the aforementioned elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services that support terrorist organizations. And while it he could, perhaps, lose the support of either Washington or his security services, he cannot afford to lose both. With rumors that Washington has had enough of Musharraf's "double game", the domestic flank will almost certainly close in on him and knock him out.

There's blood in the water, and the sharks are closing in. I don't like dabbling in predictions, but it will take nothing short of a minor miracle for Musharraf to remain in power throughout the entire year. The real question is: what sort of man will replace him?

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