Musharraf's Sword and Pen

As an ally in hunting down Al Qaeda leaders, Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been indispensable. But his help comes at a price: The US now has little leverage to nudge him toward more political reform.

In fact, General Musharraf broke a promise last week by pushing a measure through the lower house of parliament that will let him remain as army chief while also acting as the supposedly civilian president.

Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup, and then struck a deal last year with an Islamic political coalition, saying he'd remove his military hat by this December in return for their election support.

Pakistan's history of corrupt democracy has strengthened the military's hand in its politics. While Musharraf brings stability for a growing economy and a commitment to undercut militants, his dual role as military chief and president, not to mention his promise-breaking, stands to erode the democracy he says he wants.

His move comes as neighboring Afghanistan conducted its first election for president. The sharp contrast should send a message to Pakistanis - and US leaders - that Pakistan must go forward, not backward.

Musharraf may fear he would be a weak president or be ousted without control of the army. But that should not prevent him from setting a near-term date to quit the army - and mean it this time.

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