Thursday, November 22, 2007

Planning for a Musharraf in civilian garb

If he steps down as Army chief, Musharraf may find himself newly vulnerable to a hostile civilian politics.

A newly appointed panel of Supreme Court judges, handpicked by President Pervez Musharraf, is scheduled to throw out the last of the legal challenges to his continued rule Thursday.

The rulings would clear the way for the general to quit the Army and take an oath as a civilian president of Pakistan – as he has publicly pledged he would – for another five-year term.

If he follows the script, President Musharraf will become the first military ruler in Pakistan to quit the Army to become a civilian leader – in itself a testament to the extraordinary challenges the ruler has faced of late.

But it is a move inherently laden with risk and uncertainty. There is no historic precedent to suggest how civil, political, and military forces will react to Musharraf's new placement in the power landscape.

"He thinks he has created a structure in the military and engineered his political party so that both will support him in the future," says Talat Masood, an independent analyst and retired Army general. But there is a "big question mark," he says, over how military and civilian politics will interact with each other, with a civilian Musharraf as a buffer between the two.

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