Criticism mounts for Musharraf
By CNN's Andrew Demaria
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Gen. Pervez Musharraf's self-declared presidency drew criticism at home from Pakistan's opposition parties on Thursday and also from the United States.
But recognition for his power move came from an unlikely source, India, where commentators viewed it as a sign that Musharraf is serious about peace between the two nations.
The response comes after Musharraf on Wednesday dismissed former president Rafiq Tarar as the nation's ceremonial head of state and dissolved the national and provisional assemblies, paving the way for his swearing in.
Despite the move, no major changes in the country's political agenda are expected, with Musharraf saying he will keep his promise and return Pakistan to democracy by October 2002.
"The supreme court order, supreme court judgment, of holding elections in October 2002 is very clear," he said Wednesday. "We will abide by that."
On the day after the event, most Pakistani politicians were in a state of bewilderment and were said to be very bitter.
All of the major Pakistani political parties condemned the move, some calling it a mockery of democracy while others have expressed grave concerns over the future of constitutional order in the country.
Party officials said they will meet soon to discuss a strategy to counter Musharraf's declaration but admit they are relatively powerless to stop him.
Musharraf has held the position of Chief Executive since ousting Prime Minister Nawar Sharif in a bloodless military coup in October 1999.
The United States condemned Musharraf's latest move, describing it as a turn away from democracy.
"General Musharraf's actions to dissolve the elected assemblies and to appoint himself president severely undermine Pakistan's constitutional order," Richard Boucher, U.S. State Department spokesman, said.
"They cast Pakistan as a country ruled by decree rather than by democratic process."
Washington says U.S. sanctions imposed after Musharraf took power in 1999 will remain in place until Pakistan moves toward democracy.
Some are less negative about Musharraf's declaration.
Pakistani business circles claim that as president, Musharraf can now focus on mending Pakistan's broken economy, but support is qualified.
Musharraf did draw heart from important ally China, which said that it was an internal affair for Pakistan.
India signals recognition
Indians were still digesting the news Thursday, as the government signaled its recognition of the developments in Islamabad.
Stopping short of congratulating Musharraf, a spokesman for the external affairs ministry said that the Gen. Musharraf would be welcomed as the president of Pakistan when he arrives in India on July 14.
Musharraf will meet with India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in New Delhi on July 14-16 as president, chief executive and chief of army.
Indian commentators said that the move could be interpreted as a serious signal that Musharraf is committed to working towards peace between the two nations.
They say that Musharraf is under intense pressure to ease tensions with New Dehli and regain approval from the U.S.
"He might want to ease the situation by doing something with India. That hope stems from the untenability of the current direction in which Pakistan is heading," C. Rajamohan, an Indian commentator on diplomatic affairs, told Reuters.
But analysts doubt that Musharraf's new mantle as president will have much impact on the substance of the talks with Vajpayee.
The main topic will be the disputed region of Kashmir and although Musharraf comes with his position strengthened, the question of Kashmir is expected to remain intractable.
"It would have made a difference if he had been elected president. It might have even made a difference if he had given up his title of chief of army staff," Professor Samina Ahmed, from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, told CNN.
"Since he's done neither, it is really continuity. It doesn't change the dynamics of the relationship between the two countries or Musharraf's power base which is the Pakistani military."
Vajpayee invited Musharraf last month to discuss disputes between the two nuclear rivals and break a two-year deadlock in the peace process.
Indian and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 over the issue of Kashmir.
Business as usual
In his new role, Musharraf went about business as usual on Thursday, implementing a anti-terrorism law designed to give the government more leeway to deal effectively with sectarianism.
Observers say the next watermark in Musharraf's game plan will be to assert authority as president, possibly increasing the power of the office of presidency -- including perhaps the ability to dismiss future governments.
Some expect Musharraf in the short term to appoint a prime minister and shuffle the cabinet, but long-term constitutional amendments remain uncertain.
"What we really have to see is between now and the timetable given by the supreme court of Pakistan for the transfer of power to elected house which is October of next year," Ahmed said.
Constitutional amendments would change the government structure in Pakistan from a federal parliamentary democracy to a presidential system.
"Then I think you would have seen a major change in the present style of governance in Pakistan," she said.
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