Musharraf Endures Complaints from All Sides

Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf has been a U.S. ally since the Sept. 11 attacks, but his hold on power is as tenuous as ever. On Friday, the Pakistani Supreme Court overruled his decision to dismiss the chief justice. Islamists are furious with him. And President Bush accuses him of failing to go after al-Qaida militants.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Now life just seems to get worse and worse for Pakistan's military ruler Pervez Musharraf. This week brought a wave of militant violence and the worst political defeat of his nearly eight-year rule. Now, his closest ally, the United States, is on his case, stepping up pressure on him.

From Islamabad, NPR's Philip Reeves filed this assessment of the general's dilemma.

PHILIP REEVES: Let's try for a moment to imagine the contents of General Pervez Musharraf's inbox. We know it's going to be piled high. There will be accounts of his army's efforts to contain Islamist militants, bringing havoc to Pakistan's northwest frontier. There will be reports about the several hundred people the militants and their suicide bombers have killed (unintelligible) for more than in a week, in a frenzy triggered by the storming of Islamabad's Red Mosque. There will probably be updates about the devastation caused by little reported, but massive flooding in southern Pakistan. And you can bet there'll be something about this.

(Soundbite of shouting crowd)

REEVES: A landmark ruling from Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday, which was greeted joyously by the general's opponents. It said his suspension of Pakistan's chief justice was illegal and the judge must be reinstated.

This was by far, Musharraf's biggest political defeat. Musharraf's been through much since taking over in a coup in 1999: the fallout from 9/11, a dangerous standoff with his nuclear neighbor India, a scandal over his top atomic scientist selling nuclear secrets, South Asia's worst earthquake in living memory. But even Musharraf's most unsympathetic critics can see the general's now going for a particularly rough patch.

Amongst the fiercest of these critics is Roedad Khan. Over the years, Khan's advised presidents and prime ministers and held some of the country's top bureaucratic positions. He's retired now and finally able to say what he thinks, which is that Musharraf only has himself to blame.

Mr. ROEDAD KHAN (Retired Bureaucrat, Pakistan): He has a figure head prime minister. He has - he has destroyed all political institutions. He had a cabinet, which he does not consult. So all major decisions are taken by one single solitary individual person.

REEVES: Right now, Musharraf's grappling with an especially difficult decision - how to deal with violent Islamist extremism without deepening his isolation at home and abroad. The White House keeps saying he's a key ally in the so-called war on terror, but not for the first time, the friendship's turning sour.

U.S. intelligence agencies last week warned in a National Intelligence Estimate that Islamist militants, particularly al-Qaida, are still a persistent and evolving threat to the U.S. They say the militants have a safe haven in Pakistan's border areas, a claim that irks Tasnim Aslam of Pakistan's Foreign Ministry.

Ms. TASNIM ASLAM (Spokesperson, United Nations Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pakistan): The most bigoted enemy of Pakistan would have to accept that Pakistan is the country that has helped break the back of al-Qaida. To say that al-Qaida is based in Pakistan or in (unintelligible) is absurd.

REEVES: U.S. officials say one big reason for the resurgence of Islamist militants is a peace agreement that Musharraf struck in the North Waziristan tribal region last year. Pro-Taliban militants there have recently cancelled that deal. Yesterday, in his weekly radio address, President Bush made clear he views that agreement as a blunder.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: President Musharraf recognizes the agreement has not been successful or well enforced and is taking active steps to correct it.

REEVES: But is he and will he in the future? The U.S. is pressing Musharraf to step up the use of military force and hinting that if he doesn't act, then U.S. forces will strike targets inside Pakistan.

Musharraf knows that if this happens, there will be a political price to pay at home. His alliance with the U.S. has made him deeply unpopular. Don't forget he's already narrowly escaped assassination several times.

Speaking on CNN today, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri warned that any U.S. military action inside Pakistan would alienate public opinion. Many Pakistanis also believe sending their own troops back into the tribal areas would only make matters worse, including Roedad Khan, the retired bureaucrat. Khan believes this would also threaten Musharraf's sole remaining pillar of support - the Pakistani military.

Mr. KHAN: Even more, you're really straining their loyalty, you know, expecting them to go and kill their own people. The soldier doesn't realize why he's doing it, why he's pulling the trigger, you know. He is not fully convinced to proceed, you know. He's not fully convinced.

REEVES: One thing's clear enough, if Musharraf loses the support of his army, he won't be reading that inbox anymore.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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