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The Military Defines Power in Pakistan

After years of unfulfilled promises to do so, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf will finally give up his military rank as chief of the armed forces when he is expected to retire from the military on Wednesday [11/28/07]. Most analysts say the opposition's demand that the General shed his uniform and his reluctance to do so until now reflects the military's considerable political power in Pakistan.

For more than half of its six decades of existence, Pakistan has been under the direct rule of military men. And even during the brief periods of civilian rule, the military has continued to wield political power, ready to step in and replace the government with one more to its liking.

Opposition to the military rule of President Pervez Musharraf has been growing in civil society. But most analysts say that the opposition has no real hope of unseating President Musharraf as long as he retains the support of the key military commanders -- all of whom were appointed by him. They also point out that Mr. Musharraf could not have imposed emergency rule without military backing.

Teresita Schaffer, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia during the Clinton administration, says she sees no sign the military is ready to turn on Mr. Musharraf just yet. "The key thing, though, is, does he still have the confidence of his corps commanders? This is a disciplined and hierarchal army. But I don't think its patience is infinite."

Bob Grenier, a former CIA station chief in Islamabad, says the military may be feeling increasingly embarrassed by the man who is both their leader and president. "I think that at a certain point that, if it hasn't [been] already, that is going to come home to the corps commanders. They're going to realize that the position of the army as an institution is being discredited by their association with General Musharraf. And at that point, I think they will perhaps be motivated to step forward and try to produce some solution that will not include General Musharraf," says Grenier.

The Military's Role in Society

The military has an elite status with Pakistani society. It has separate housing and medical care of a standard far better than that enjoyed by most Pakistanis. It holds many of the choicest parcels of land in cities and the countryside. And it has its own business ties in various sectors of the economy. In a recent book, author Ayesha Siddiqa estimates that the Pakistani military has interests worth nearly $10 billion, ranging from movie houses to breakfast cereal.

And, most importantly, the military has always had the final word in politics. It gave its backing to the dismissals of the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s. In 1999, then-army chief General Musharraf mounted the bloodless coup that ousted Sharif's government. Bhutto and Sharif have both returned to Pakistan to challenge General Musharraf's rule.

Most analysts say the military threat from India, Pakistan's failure to develop strong domestic political institutions, and bickering and corruption among civilian politicians allowed the military to accumulate political clout.

But the army, which has always been trained to fight a conventional war against India, is now under Pervez Musharraf's orders to fight Islamist militants along the Afghan border. There are scattered reports of some unease in army ranks about being ordered to fight fellow Pakistanis, especially as the militants open a new front in the scenic Swat Valley.

The New Military Leader

President Musharraf has picked General Ashfaq Kayani, the former head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, to succeed him as army commander.

Former CIA officer Bob Grenier, who knows General Kayani well, describes him as soft-spoken and well-respected in the military. Like many other analysts, Grenier says General Kayani will be key to any solution to the country's political crisis. "He is not somebody who is given to rash judgments or rash actions. He is very cautious. But I think he is someone who is very devoted to the image of the army of Pakistan as the guarantor of the country," says Grenier. "And I think that he along with his corps commanders will have to think long and hard as time goes by and they see that the position of the Pakistan army being gradually -- in fact, rather rapidly -- eroded."

President Musharraf's handpicked Supreme Court erased any legal challenges to his October 6th re-election to another five-year term as president. And he has set January 8th as the date for Pakistan's general elections. However, he has refused to say when he will lift the country's state of emergency.