Pakistan's reform-talking general
Musharraf casts himself as a reformer, rather than a strongman. But Washington remains wary.
Ever since a bloodless coup brought him to power last October, Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf has been trying to demonstrate to the world that his military background poses no threat to regional security and democracy.Skip to next paragraph
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In a country governed by Army officials for half of its existence, General Musharraf says he is trying to weed out corruption and restore democracy before October 2002, the Supreme Court's deadline for national elections.
"The biggest difference between me and the past is that I have an agenda and a time frame," he says. "We are involved in restructuring and reforming the entire system in Pakistan."
Musharraf says, for example, that he will initiate changes to set aside a third of the legislative seats at the local level for women.
Pakistan observer Ayesha Jalal, a history professor at Tufts University, says that Musharraf "does seem to be a man of good intentions," and notes, "This military regime came out of a different context, replacing a government that was really authoritarian though democratic in name."
But Britain and the United States have reservations and have called for speedy elections.
Washington fears that a military leader could bring Pakistan closer to war with neighboring India over the long-disputed territory of Kashmir. Pakistan and India have fought three wars since Pakistan's independence more than 50 years ago, two of them over Kashmir.
Musharraf was one of the architects of a 10-week battle last year, when Pakistani soldiers crossed over to the Indian-controlled side of the territory.
Musharraf says Washington's fears are exaggerated. "We do not want a war with India," he says. "Both countries should be responsible enough to understand the implications of a war. So I personally think that there would not be a war between the two countries."
Both India and Pakistan have tested nuclear weapons. Musharraf says that he has no personal objections to signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But there would have to be a consensus within Pakistan to sign it - and Pakistan would not sign unless India signs, he says.
"There's a lot of misunderstanding of the CTBT which needs to be cleared," Musharraf says. "The foreign minister confronted a lot of the religious groups who were opposing it. So we are in the process of developing some kind of concensus."
A few weeks ago, the Japanese prime minister urged Musharraf to sign the treaty by dangling the carrot of much-needed economic aid, which was suspended when Pakistan followed India with nuclear tests in 1998.
Musharraf says that fighting between Kashmiris and Indian troops has not escalated this year. He warned India, however, not to cross the "line of control."
"They should realize that we are not going to allow any kind of incursions across the line of control. We are fully prepared for that....So the escalation would take place if they ever tried that."
Last week, during the United Nations Millenium Summit, Musharraf asked the UN to intervene in Kashmir. A 1948 UN resolution called for a plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to choose between Pakistan and India.
The world needs to make New Delhi accept that resolution, he says. "In East Timor, the world community took a hard stance. Indonesia had to accept. Why don't they take the same stand against India?"