The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No head is more uneasy than the one that wears the crown of a military dictator who pretends to be a democratically elected leader. This fact is gradually beginning to dawn on Mr Pervez Musharraf. He is the president of Pakistan, elected through a trumped-up election; but he is also the army chief. His own rise to power as well as the history of Pakistan will tell Mr Musharraf that the real base of power in the country is the army. To lose control over the army or to lose its support is akin to writing one’s own death certificate on the part of a political leader. So it is not surprising that Mr Musharraf is not too keen to relinquish the post of army chief. But he might have to choose one or the other since the opposition parties and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition partner of the government in Islamabad, are demanding that the legal framework order which allows Mr Musharraf to hold two posts be subjected to a detailed discussion in the Pakistan parliament. The legal framework order was specially designed to allow Mr Musharraf to hold two key positions. But it has not been discussed in parliament and thus has never been approved by it. The situation has a certain urgency for two reasons. One is the character of the MMA, and the other is Mr Musharraf’s public commitment to make Pakistan a “moderate, progressive and modern Islamic state”.

It is obvious that the MMA has no truck with such a modernizing agenda. It is in power in the North-West Frontier Province, and last week it introduced there the Shariat Bill. The NWFP thus became the first province to be run according to the Quran. In other words, the NWFP has taken a step towards Islamic fundamentalism. This does not augur well for Mr Musharraf, since the MMA is a party to the demand that the legal framework order be thoroughly debated in parliament. The retreat into the shariat will not be viewed with any kind of enthusiasm in Washington, the source of Mr Musharraf’s good-conduct certificate. The passing of the Shariat Bill has been hailed as the fruition of the work begun by the taliban. There are other signs that Islamic fundamentalism is becoming more visible in Pakistan. In Multan and elsewhere, there have been protests against symbols of Western consumerism like billboards featuring pictures of women. Constitutionally and otherwise, Mr Musharraf is caught between a rock and a hard place. He might just wriggle out, especially if Uncle Sam continues to extend his support.

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