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Pakistan's Supreme Court and Election Commission have allowed Gen. Pervez Musharraf to stand for another term as president without shedding his uniform. The rulings led to clashes between lawyers and security forces that will only increase as the election date nears.
For months, Musharraf has been one step ahead of his opponents as he maneuvers himself into a position to secure a third term. Unlike his key opponents - former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto - who engage in empty rhetoric and gestures, Musharraf has played a very smart game.
Musharraf is a master tactician (he has a graduate degree in War Studies from Quaid-e-Azam University). Over the last few months he has pursued a strategy of dividing the opposition, encouraging Bhutto to end her alliance with Sharif (the two had agreed in the past to refrain from working with Musharraf and to cooperate to peaceful remove him from power,) without promising anything substantive.
More importantly, Musharraf has worked very hard to keep the army on his side, promoting men close to him. Thus, he promoted Maj.-Gen. Nadeem Taj, his former military secretary, to director-general of the powerful Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate. The directorate has a staff of 10,000 (not including informants) and collects foreign and domestic intelligence; coordinates intelligence between the different branches of the military; and conducts surveillance vis-Ã -vis foreigners, the media, opposition politicians, foreign diplomats in Pakistan and of Pakistani diplomats serving outside the country. The directorate also monitors communications and conduct of covert intelligence operations.
Taj replaced Lt.-Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, who commanded the X Corps at Rawalpindi that launched the October 1999 coup that brought Musharraf to power and who led the successful hunt for those who carried out two attempts on Musharraf's life in December 2003. Kiyani will replace either Gen. Ehsan ul-Haq (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and another former Intelligence Directorate director) or Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hyat (vice chief of Army Staff). Both are due to retire this year.
Kiyani is also a prime candidate to replace Musharraf as head of the army, should Musharraf decide to retire from the military. Kiyani is an ideal candidate because while he served as head of the Intelligence Directorate he purged it of many pro-Taliban and pro-Kashmiri separatist officers.
Musharraf's key strength is the knowledge that ultimately, Washington wants him at the helm.
Bhutto and Sharif must contend with numerous corruption charges, and Washington also knows that neither can effectively deal with the Taliban insurgency along the Pakistan-Afghan border.
Moreover, both Bhutto and Sharif failed when they headed Pakistan: the Taliban emerged on Bhutto's watch, while under Sharif in 1999, India and Pakistan were on the verge of nuclear war. And neither Bhutto nor Sharif has widespread support within the military, something that is essential to holding Pakistan together.
Dr. Isaac Kfir lectures on international relations at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.