Islamabad, March 6: There is much speculation here about the increasing security arrangements surrounding Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s travels within the country.
The President used to travel in a cavalcade of three identical cars. This was replaced by three identical cavalcades of three cars each, moving one after the other with a gap of 30 seconds. A helicopter flew overhead. Nobody knew whether the general was flying or was in one of the cars.
Now, according to sources, after two unsuccessful attempts on his life, the three cavalcades move in three different directions, each accompanied by a helicopter overhead.
“The resource investment in any attempt on the life of our President has increased three-fold,” remarked a Pakistani politician wryly.
Where do the threats to Musharraf come from' “There is a real danger to him from the jihadis,” claimed one political observer.
Another, however, said: “The jihadis can do no more than send a human-bomb or a car-bomb. These elaborate precautions are against a much more organised and carefully planned attempt. Gen. Musharraf has closed all doors.
“He cannot be removed from office constitutionally. He has to protect himself against a forced exit like Zia-ul-Haq’s.”
However, Musharraf has little to fear from ordinary folk. His position is more than stable. He draws his strength in the polity from his political arm — the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam).
The absence of tall political leaders in the public sphere — especially the vacuum resulting from the absence of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif — has also helped him.
After he jettisoned the Taliban and publicly took on the Islamic fundamentalists, he has also divided the liberals. They support him on these measures, though they might have reservations about some of his other policies.
According to Anees Jilani, a lawyer and a social activist: “Within the country, the people are appreciative of Musharraf’s stance. He is not a popular ruler but he is not unpopular either. People have divided views about him.
“This has to do both with the lack of alternative political leadership and with general indifference.”
A senior journalist, supporting this argument, said: “None of the Opposition parties wants to wreck the present arrangement. They know that the Americans are backing Pervez Musharraf. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) is not ready to take up any issue that might lead to dissolution of parliament. So Musharraf’s position is stable, though it may not be as strong as he may want it to be.”
Mubashir Hasan of the Pakistan Peoples Party (Shahid Bhutto), was of the view that now that even the Senate had been constituted and parliament was in place: “Pervez Musharraf’s position has been strengthened. Now the National Assembly and the Senate both will favour the decisions the government takes.”
Some of the general’s detractors, however, claim that his stature both within the polity and the army has eroded over time.
Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi of the Pakistan People’s Party said: “The referendum was the turning point. After that people have started viewing Gen. Musharraf differently. Even those who were supportive of him are disillusioned today. He wanted to get rid of corrupt politicians but those who were being chased by the National Accountability Bureau have been sworn in as Cabinet ministers. The tilt towards the pro-Musharraf parties was evident during the elections.
The government at the Centre and those in the provinces have been pushed into office through horsetrading. All this has led to a decline in his stature.”
A political leader who did not want to be identified said: “During his visits to the garrisons, Musharraf is getting uncomfortable questions from the younger officers. They want to know why even after becoming the President, he still dons the uniform.” He claimed that officers below the rank of major can get away with asking such questions while above that rank they might have a cost to pay for such rude queries.
However, there are many who disagree.
A senior mediaperson said: “While nobody knows what is happening within the army, the fact is that it is a stable and disciplined institution. It has no tradition of going against its chief. Musharraf keeps a close watch on it and knows what it wants. He is very decisive.
“All the bearded people have been shunted out from top positions and replaced by more moderate officers who are close to him. It is a far less fundamentalist army today than the one that Musharraf took over.”