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Eight years on, Musharraf has had to compromise

Eight years after he assumed power in a bloodless coup, President Pervez Musharraf looks a pale shadow of his old persona.
PTI | By HT Correspondent, Islamabad
UPDATED ON OCT 06, 2007 10:44 PM IST

Eight years after he assumed power in a bloodless coup, President Pervez Musharraf looks a pale shadow of his old persona. From one in complete control, he now appears beleaguered, hemmed in and ready to compromise with adversaries.

The 64-year old battle-tested commando, who is set to be re-elected for a second term in the Presidential poll boycotted by several Opposition parties, faces plummeting popularity, hostility from Islamic radicals and increasing US pressure.

The military ruler, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 by ousting then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has been facing widespread protests ever since he attempted to sack Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

In his chequered rule, Musharraf has survived three assassination attempts. "I call myself lucky," he says.

Known to be a tough soldier, Musharraf would often ask his men to lie close to railway tracks in the face of an oncoming train to test their nerves.

Musharraf rose through the ranks and became the Army Chief when Gen Jehangir Karamat resigned in 1998. Sharif had appointed Musharraf, superseding two senior military figures.

"My bluntness and indiscipline has landed me in many a serious trouble," says Musharraf, who joined the Pakistan Military Academy when he was 18 and became a commando in 1966.

Sharif's attempt on October 12, 1999 to sack Musharraf and install ISI head Khwaja Ziauddin as the Army Chief boomeranged. Musharraf was on a plane from Sri Lanka to Karachi when he learnt that Sharif had ordered the airport to be closed and that permission would not be given for his aircraft to land.

The plane landed with little fuel after army Generals backed Musharraf who ordered arrest of Sharif and became the de-facto head of government using the title Chief Executive. Sharif was later exiled to Saudi Arabia along with his family.

Musharraf has since then gone from strength-to-strength tightening his grip over the power structure but events in the last eight months and pressure mounted by Sharif and former premier Benazir Bhutto, who is in self-imposed exile, have seen the military ruler go on the backfoot.

Support for Musharraf from the ruling coalition led by PML-Q will facilitate his victory over his two main rivals in the poll — PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim and former Supreme Court judge Wajihuddin Ahmed who has been fielded by the lawyers' fraternity.

But Musharraf will be unable to assume the post till the Supreme Court rules on petitions challenging his re-election bid in uniform.

Born in Delhi in undivided India in August 1943, Musharraf along with his family members migrated to Pakistan during the partition. He began his military career as an artillery officer in 1964 and went on to see action in the war with India the following year and was awarded a medal for gallantry.

In less than a year after Musharraf assumed the Army Chief's post, Pakistan and India were engaged in the Kargil conflict after regular Pakistani troops and militants backed by Islamabad occupied strategic heights.

The first years of Musharraf's rule were marked by heightened tension with India, triggered by a series of terrorist incidents, including the hijacking of an Indian aircraft to Afghanistan in December 1999 and an audacious attack on Parliament in December 2001.

New Delhi squarely blamed terror outfits backed by Islamabad for these attacks.

With both sides eager to mend fences, Musharraf held the first summit with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Agra in July 2001 but the meeting failed to make any headway.

The 9/11 terror attacks in the US saw Washington looking at Musharraf as a key ally in the war against terrorism.

But soon, Musharraf found himself on a difficult track. He was caught between the need to accommodate US interests and prevent radicalisation of Muslim groups at home.

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