October 2, 2007

Maybe This Time He Means It?

Pervez Musharraf, facing a parliamentary revolt after winning his legal petitions to run for the presidency on Saturday, named his replacement as army chief of staff today. Musharraf has made promises to step down in the past, but never has gone quite so far as to name his successor:

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has named his successor to take over as army chief, the military says.

The appointee is former head of intelligence Lt Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, military spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad told the BBC.

Gen Musharraf will resign as head of the army if he wins presidential elections on Saturday, his lawyers say.

The choice of Kiani will reassure Musharraf's Western allies. Kiani has a reputation as a hard-core Musharraf loyalist, which will hopefully keep military policy stable in the transition to civilian government. Kiana has run the army's intelligence service, which gives him even more credibility for the war on terror. He is known as a pro-Western influence on the army, and personally ran the operation that captured Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the al-Qaeda leader who had tried to have Musharraf assassinated at least twice.

Even if the Western allies feel more comfortable with Kiani, the Pakistani opposition still rejects Musharraf's run for the presidency. Eighty MPs walked out in a protest this week after the courts cleared Musharraf to contest the election. Since the Parliament and regional governments elect the president, it makes it even easier for Musharraf to win office. Whether Pakistanis see him as a legitimate elected president remains to be seen.

It makes this power transfer more certain, however, and Musharraf would have five years in which to make the case for his status as a democrat. He could help himself by allowing Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan and create a coalition of moderates against the Islamists in the northwest. He will need that kind of alliance to keep the radicals at bay, and even Kiani apparently agrees -- he reportedly participated in the talks between Musharraf and Bhutto that aimed at restoring her status in Pakistani politics.


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