General Musharraf is treading a fine line between angering his US sponsors and upsetting Pakistani domestic opinion. When he seized power eight years ago, Musharraf was seen as an ally for the West in the battle against terrorism, a strategic importance subsequently amplified by the 9/11 attacks. The US supplied him with arms and intelligence cooperation, but many in Washington now wonder whether they’re getting value for money. Intelligence reports claim northwest Pakistan is a safe zone for Islamic miltants and the porous border with Afghanistan a gaping hole in the strategy for combatting al-Qaeda.
But Musharraf’s freedom to act is limited domestically by religious groups. 100 militants were killed when he cleared out Islamabad’s Red Mosque – 200 people have since been killed in revenge attacks. Most Pakistanis don’t support the Islamic Militants – but tolerance for Musharraf’s inabillity to control the situation is waning, particular since his botched attempt to sack the country’s Chief Justice, subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court.That affair has cast doubt over his ability to win re-election at the end of the year – he needs to pass a constitutional reform to be able to stand again.
Also unsettling are frosty relations with Afghanistan. Afghan President Karzai accuses Musharraf of not doing enough to stop militants crossing the border into his country – Musharraf says it is the Afghan government that is to blame for losing control. Isolated, Musharraf’s political survival looks increasingly dependent on access to the US weaponry that keeps the military loyal. As a candidate for the White House, George W. Bush was famously unable to name the general who’d just seiezd power in Pakistan in a coup d‘état, but still felt able to say of Musharraf: “It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that’s good news for the sub-continent.”
The US government now supports the Pakistan government to the tune of 700 million euros per year.
Musharraf will be hoping that time hasn’t dulled Bush’s high opinion of him.