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No Quick Fixes
One year after launching his military coup, Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf still has plenty of work to do

October 13, 2000
Web posted at 4:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 4:00 a.m. EDT

When General Pervez Musharraf took power in Pakistan October 12 last year, there were celebratory fireworks and dancing in the streets. More than a decade with elected leaders had left many Pakistanis disillusioned with their experience of democracy. They were glad to welcome back the military -- which has ruled Pakistan for half its 53 years. Now, however, the high expectations have faded. The enormous problems inherited by Musharraf have eluded quick fixes, and the realities of the country have stymied significant progress.

The one-year anniversary of the coup passed with no official fanfare. Musharraf's handlers preferred to draw little attention to the milestone, though Musharraf did hold a three-hour press conference in Lahore on Oct. 10 to defend his record, and to urge Pakistanis not to despair in the face of difficulty. Musharraf's ambitious agenda of economic revival, devolution of power and anti-corruption efforts remains largely unrealized. Pakistan's problems are not as easily obliterated as enemies in battle. Then again, a year is not much time to turn things around in a complicated nation of 140 million people, in which more than 30% live under the poverty line. Pakistan's economy is still a mess, accountability efforts have moved slowly, and local elections will not begin until December.

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Musharraf said last year that he wanted to take Pakistan in a progressive, forward-looking direction. But human rights activists criticized Musharraf's demand in January for a loyalty oath from High Court judges -- something that led the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to resign -- as well as a government ban on political demonstrations.

The coup anniversary saw no political protests. On the night of Oct. 11, Kulsoom Nawaz, the wife of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was put under virtual house arrest at a friend's home in Rawalpindi. Over the summer, too, she was prevented from attending a rally in Lahore when police towed her car away -- with her sitting inside. She remained in the car for 10 hours before she was finally released. While few Pakistanis would defend her husband, who is now in jail serving terrorism and corruption sentences, many wonder about the authorities' heavy-handed treatment of his wife. But overall, the country's enfeebled political parties have hardly tried to rally their supporters against the military government. "The political scene presents the aspect of a graveyard," writes columnist Ayaz Amir in Dawn, a respected English-language daily.

Musharraf is seen by many liberal Pakistanis as pandering to the religious right. In that sense, he is no different from any other Pakistani leader. In an early interview with Turkish journalists, he expressed his admiration for the great reformer Kemal Ataturk. The same day, he was photographed holding his two pet dogs (considered unclean by Islamic standards) and smiling broadly. After religious leaders expressed their outrage, Pakistanis never heard the Turkish leader's name mentioned again, and they certainly saw no more photos of the doggies. Later in the year, Musharraf backtracked on a pledge to restrict the use of the country's blasphemy law, often utilized as a tool of intimidation, and had a tough fight against shopkeepers -- who are closely allied with religious parties -- during a long-overdue taxation drive.

But the religious right is not happy with Musharraf, either. "This government has failed on all counts and nobody is satisfied," says Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's most powerful religious party. He believes the government should step down before the October 2002 deadline mandated by the Supreme Court. His party will try to speed things up. "We will put all pressure, short of creating chaotic conditions," says Ahmad.

Relations with India continued to be thorny this year, particularly over the issue of Kashmir. Delhi remains hostile to Musharraf, who is seen as the mastermind of last year's incursion into the Indian-administered Kargil heights. India also blamed Islamabad for the December hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet to Afghanistan, something Pakistan denied responsibility for. Despite Pakistan's unannounced, unilateral cease-fire along sensitive areas of the Line of Control over the summer, and a short-lived cease-fire by the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, there has been no significant progress on the Kashmir issue. Some observers believe the next two years will be little different. "As long as Pakistan has a military government, peace in the subcontinent is a thing of the past," says human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.

Musharraf's Information Minister, Javed Jabbar, says one of the government's biggest achievements has been to restore people's trust in government, and to impose a strict ethical code for holders of public office. That may be a start in the right direction, but it is doubtful that the military can impose things like trust and ethics on democratically elected leaders in the future. Those are part of inevitable growing pains any budding democracy must go through. "We have to pay a price for democracy," says Jahangir. "To found it is easy but to actually develop it is far more difficult."

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