Since September 11, 2001, the U.S.'s Pakistan policy can be summed up in two words: Pervez Musharraf. But within the U.S. intelligence community, and in Pakistan, there's a growing belief that the U.S.-friendly military dictator's days are drawing to a close -- and possibly within the next few months. It may be time for the U.S. to face what it's long feared in the nuclear state: the prospect of chaos, rising Islamism or anti-Americanism that follows Musharraf.
But the hope -- among Pakistani military officers and politicians, to say nothing of U.S. diplomats -- is that the increasingly inept and unpopular Musharraf can be eased out of power while the U.S. slowly distances itself from him, allowing for as smooth a transition as is possible in the turbulent South Asian country. Some see the Pakistani Army remaining powerful enough to prevent a chaotic transition or an Islamist takeover. "This is going to be a Pinochet-like transition, instead of a Marcos-like one," one former Pakistani official tells TPMmuckraker. In other words, according to the ex-official, the U.S. may not stand foursquare behind its ally Musharraf until he's ultimately forced from power, as President Ronald Reagan chose with doomed Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Over the past few weeks, U.S. intelligence have started to conclude that Musharraf is on his way out. "It is the sense people have, and it's been out there," says Rob Richer, a former deputy head of CIA operations who has met with Musharraf personally and long worked with the Pakistanis on intelligence issues. "This is the view of both senior (U.S. intelligence) officials and people who follow the issue closely." What's more, Richer tells TPMmuckraker, Musharraf himself knows his time is up, and is "looking for an exit strategy":
"He believes his successor has got to be someone who supports the military but it won't necessarily be someone in uniform. There's no obvious candidate â¦ At this point, he's looking for the right person, a right-winger, someone who understands the Army."
Musharraf's vision is to make Pakistan like Turkey, where Islamic currents ebb and flow with popular sentiment, "but who enforces what they call democracy? The military." Adds Frederic Grare, a former French diplomat in Pakistan, the military could "withdraw behind the scenes but keep the levers of power," while a civilian takes charge after elections that Musharraf has called for in the fall.
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