Musharraf Made Pakistan a Western Ally

By STEPHEN GRAHAM – 11 minutes ago

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pervez Musharraf ended a tumultuous army career Wednesday that saw him go to the cusp of war with India and seize power in a coup, then find a lifeline in the calamity of 9/11 to turn Pakistan from a pariah state into a vital Muslim ally of the West.

Musharraf's image has taken a beating since he declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3. Pakistan's revitalized opposition could yet wreck his plan to stay on as a civilian president.

Islamic militants entrenched along the Afghan border, where Osama bin Laden may be hiding, have defied his U.S.-urged efforts to dislodge them.

But Musharraf has succeeded before by braving the wrath of his country's religious fundamentalists — swinging Pakistan firmly behind Washington after the Sept. 11 attacks and using Western patronage to revitalize the country's economy and army.

"What Gen. Musharraf did after 9/11 was an act of extreme daring," the liberal Daily Times newspaper said in an editorial Wednesday.

Musharraf owed his rise to the top of one of the world's largest armies to Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister now gunning hard for his removal from power. Sharif promoted Musharraf to the top military job in 1998, passing over a more senior general.

Sharif and Musharraf became bitter enemies the next year over the ill-fated Kargil maneuver, in which Pakistani troops joined forces with militant irregulars in an attack aimed at seizing ground from their Indian adversaries in the mountains of Kashmir.

Under pressure from President Clinton, Sharif ordered a humiliating retreat, easing international fears that the fighting could escalate into a nuclear conflict.

And when Sharif tried to fire Musharraf, the army took revenge.

Sharif was arrested and jailed for trying to prevent a plane bringing Musharraf back from a foreign trip from landing at Karachi airport. A year later, Sharif was released into exile in Saudi Arabia, returning last week.

Musharraf, who was born in Delhi in 1943, four years before the independence and partition of India, joined the Pakistan Military Academy in 1961.

He was commissioned to an artillery regiment three years later and saw action in the 1965 war against India and again in 1971 as commander of a company of elite commandos. His training included a spell at Britain's Royal College of Defense Studies.

Despite disciplinary problems as a young officer, he rose through the ranks to become a major general in 1991 in charge of an infantry division and held a variety of staff positions before becoming army chief of staff.

The 1999 coup pushed Pakistan deeper into the political isolation stemming from the Kargil debacle and its test detonations of atomic bombs in 1998.

Then came the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and intense pressure from Washington for Pakistan to turn against its former Taliban clients, who had made Afghanistan a safe haven for al-Qaida.

America was sure to react "like a wounded bear," Musharraf wrote in his 2006 memoir. "If the perpetrator turned out to be al-Qaida, that wounded bear would come charging straight towards us."

Musharraf sided with Washington despite objections from Islamists, granting overflight rights and the use of Pakistani air bases to support the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan.

In the following years, and with help from the CIA, Pakistan captured hundreds of al-Qaida suspects, including key leaders such as Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suspected mastermind of the attack that felled the World Trade Center.

With bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar at large, some observers have doubted Pakistan's commitment to battling extremists.

Musharraf, piqued, threatened this year to quit the coalition altogether.

The militant groups' enmity toward him was vividly demonstrated in December 2003, when the general narrowly escaped two bomb attacks in 11 days.

Under Musharraf, Pakistan army troops entered the semiautonomous tribal belt along the Afghan border for the first time. The region, never subdued under British colonial rule, had become a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism during the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

After a series of bloody operations begun in 2004, the army pulled back under peace accords forged with tribal leaders and militants.

U.S. officials complained that the deals, instead of allowing moderate tribal leaders to reassert their authority, only let extremists consolidate their hold.

This year, fighting has spread to the Swat valley, once a scenic tourist attraction a two-hour drive from the capital.

Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani political and military analyst, said Musharraf leaves the military in good shape, thanks to billions of dollars in American military aid and the army's growing role in the Pakistan economy.

"He devoted whatever was possible to make the army a professional and well-equipped force and the American weapons supply played an important role," Rizvi said.

But he said the army's involvement in politics had inflicted the worst damage to its image since a bloody military intervention in East Pakistan in 1971 failed to prevent it from breaking away to form Bangladesh.

A senior commander told reporters this month that the army would try harder to avoid inflicting civilian casualties in Pakistan.

In his last speech in uniform on Tuesday, Musharraf said the army was now "stretched to the limit."