Succession plan in place for Musharaf: NYT
There are people who can step into Musharraf's shoes if he were to be assassinated.world Updated: Mar 12, 2007 19:09 IST
The United States is possibly looking at a post-Musharraf administration in Pakistan, if media reports are any indication.
"If Mr Musharraf were to fall to an assassin's bullet ... It is unlikely that there would be mass uprisings in Lahore and Karachi, or that a religious leader in the Taliban mould would rise to power," the New York Times said quoting American diplomatic and intelligence officials in Washington.
"Based on the succession plan, the vice chief of the army, Gen Ahsan Saleem Hyat, would take over as the leader of the army and Mohammedmian Soomro, an ex-banker, would become president," the report said.
"General Hyat, who is secular like Mr Musharraf, would hold the real power," it said. "But it is unclear whether General Hyat would be as adept as Mr Musharraf at keeping various interest groups within the military in line."
The spectre of Islamic radicals overthrowing Musharraf has also limited the Bush administration's policy options, including American military strikes against a resurgent Al-Qaeda, which has camps in Pakistani tribal areas, the paper said.
The report said it was important for the administration to know how to handle Musharraf, especially in the context of the Taliban expanding its reach in Pakistan, gradually spreading from remote areas into more settled regions of the country.
Analysts were quoted as saying that Musharraf's warnings were used to maintain a steady flow of American aid and keep at bay demands from Washington for democratic reforms.
"He often invokes the dangers of Islamic radicalism when meeting American officials in Washington and Islamabad, and his narrow escape in two assassination attempts is frequently cited by President Bush as evidence of his tenuous grip on power," the paper noted.
While the Islamists would be keen to usurp power at any cost, the report said an examination of the polling data and recent election results, howsoever suspect they may be in a less-than democratic polity, indicated very little support for the Islamists to take over the country.
The last time Pakistan went to the polls in 2002, religious political parties received just 11 per cent of the vote, compared with more than 28 per cent won by the party led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
That election may have been a high point for the Islamists, who were capitalising on surging anti-American sentiments after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Even though the Iraq war has also inflamed anti-Western passions, these apparrently have not translated into electoral gains for the Islamist parties.
Islamist politicians, the report noted, received a drubbing in the local elections in 2005, gaining less than expected support in their power base in the tribal areas.
In September, in a survey by the International Republican Institute, a think tank of the Republican Party, only 5.2 per cent of respondents said they would vote for the main religious alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, in national parliamentary elections.
The survey found that while the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal was very popular in Balochistan where support for the Taliban has been the strongest, Musharraf and Bhutto, and even former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, fared way above Islamist leaders.
"It is also thought to be unlikely that a successful attempt on Musharraf's life would mean wholesale changes in the power structure of Pakistani politics," the report concluded.
"I am not particularly worried about an extremist government coming to power and getting hold of nuclear weapons," NYT quoted Robert Richer, who was associate director of operations in 2004 and 2005 for the Central Intelligence Agency, as saying.
"If something happened to Musharraf tomorrow, another general would step in."