Pakistan's final arbiter: the Army
The military is Musharraf's chief remaining constituency.
The last time President Pervez Musharraf suspended the Constitution, sacked Supreme Court judges, and cracked down on political parties – in 1999 – he found support in all the right quarters: his Army's top brass, key Western capitals, the business elite, and the educated middle classes.Skip to next paragraph
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Much of that domestic support has eroded as the war on terror pushed him closer to Washington. But General Musharraf continued to dominate the country's political scene with the backing of Pakistan's Army – what some see as his only real constituency.
As Pakistan's strongest and most stable institution, the Army has always played an important, often stabilizing, political role behind the scenes or in full view. But growing street unrest in Pakistan and dismay in Washington may spur a nervous military top brass to again step up as the ultimate arbiter of Pakistani political power. While analysts say the Army remains entirely behind Musharraf, one thing is certain: Pakistan's military establishment will not allow its prestige and position to be compromised.
"The Army is always reluctant to move against their chief," says Ikram Sehgal, the editor of Defence Journal and a retired major in Pakistan's Army. But pushing Musharraf to become a civilian leader, he says, "might be the only way for the Army to redeem its image."
In the lead up to this week's political crisis, President Musharraf has acted with the confidence of a military man who commands absolute loyalty. While that is unlikely to change, Pakistan's military is an institution that has historically shown a strong sense of identity and mission that may owe more to the nation of Pakistan than to the office of the president.
"The Army would have to be part of any political change," says Hassan Askari Rizvi, former Professor of Pakistan Studies at Columbia University and author of Military, State and Society in Pakistan. "It could be a mediator between parties as it has been in the past," he says. "Directly or indirectly, the Army will have to help work out a solution."
Army's history of political savvy
President Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency this week bore a strong resemblance to the coup he launched against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999. Once again, Musharraf suspended the constitution and ordered a crackdown on the judiciary and political opposition.
But this time, the reception was nothing like the general might have expected. Not only have his most important supporters in the White House pulled back, but a growing street movement threatens to spiral out of control, which, analysts say, is making everyone in the country, especially the Pakistani Army, very nervous.
The tension has also increased pressure on the Army to stabilize the country as it has in the past. Musharraf's desperate political maneuvers, some say, might also cause the general's Army to view him as more of a liability on the institution, and though unlikely, some senior officers might suggest to the chief of the Army staff to leave the barracks and rule as a civilian president.