Pakistan - Leadership

As a military leader whose interests apparently were purely professional, General Pervez Musharraf's seizure of power in Pakistan was as much a response to circumstance as a planned venture into the political arena. However, his coup was supported by many Pakistanis, who saw the army as the only counterbalance to a prime minister completely out of control. Musharraf himself claimed, in a speech televised to the nation, that the country's institutions had been systematically destroyed and that the economy was in a state of collapse. His stated aim was to restore "pure democracy" to the country.

Musharraf's power base was initially ill-defined. The army supported his ouster of Nawaz Sharif, but the extent of his support in the military was unclear. Many in the military were known to be more fundamentalist in their religious outlook than Musharraf, who believes religion should be a private affair. Similarly, though many Pakistanis supported the coup and many of Musharraf's initial moves, with political parties sidelined and a state of emergency in effect, the extent of Musharraf's popular support and backing among Pakistan's population was an open question. One positive is that Musharraf, as a muhajir or immigrant from India, avoids identification with either the Punjabi or Sindhi factions in Pakistan's politics.

Musharraf's position in Pakistan changed drastically after the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001. Pakistan was a long-time supporter of neighboring Afghanistan's Taliban government, which the U.S. blamed for harboring the al-Qaeda terrorist cell accused of launching the attacks. As the U.S. geared up to retaliate, Musharraf and Pakistan had to decide if it would continue to support the Afghani regime or cooperate with the U.S. military response. Musharraf took the opportunity—wisely, most observers noted—of offering his country's full support to the U.S. military. Initially, there were widespread protests in Karachi and Islamabad, but they were short-lived and were initially restricted to hardline Islamists. However, as the U.S. military campaign continued, anti-U.S. sentiment increased, and protests were widespread. Some hard-line Islamic groups expressed support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and members of the two organizations were reported to be harbored in western Pakistan. In parliamentary and provincial elections held on 10 October 2002, a coalition of 6 hardline Islamic parties, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (United Action Front or MMA), performed surprisingly well in the polls, even gaining support in urban areas and among the middle class. In January 2003, nationwide protests were held against a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.

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