Supporters at Home and Abroad Backing Away From Musharraf

By John Ward Anderson and Robin Wright
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 24, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 23 -- As critical elections in Pakistan approach, President Pervez Musharraf is increasingly losing support from major constituencies, including his traditional military base, amid growing questions in both Pakistan and the United States about his ability to govern.

On Wednesday, a group of more than 100 retired military officers, including influential air marshals, admirals, generals and security agency chiefs, called on Musharraf to step down immediately in order to help restore democracy and deal with Islamic radicals who have made territorial inroads in recent months.

A statement from the Ex-Servicemen's Society said that it had been monitoring recent events "with great concern and anguish" and that Musharraf's resignation was "in the supreme national interest."

Musharraf has repeatedly defied expectations of his political demise, and few observers believe that the parliamentary balloting Feb. 18 will lead to his immediate ouster.

But Pakistani analysts and U.S. officials said that the political challenges Musharraf faces are greater than they have been in the past and that his allies at home and abroad are fewer. While he has alienated former military leaders, there are signs that active-duty officers may be distancing themselves from him as well.

Musharraf's handpicked successor as army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, is unlikely to come to the rescue of his old boss, analysts said. Kiyani last week issued an order that no military officers can meet with the president without his approval and indicated that he would recall the many military officers placed in civilian jobs under Musharraf.

"The army would be very happy to get rid of him," said one political analyst, Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general.

A senior U.S. congressional official who recently visited Pakistan said the military is ready for Musharraf to step down but does not want to have to remove him, preferring instead to wait until he recognizes the need to exit.

The domestic souring on Musharraf comes as U.S. intelligence officials have told agencies in Washington for the first time that the Pakistani leader may be beyond political rescue or long-term relevance.

If Pakistan's opposition gains two-thirds of the parliamentary seats in the elections, the president faces the possibility of impeachment. And even if he can assemble a coalition government, officials said, he is likely to struggle politically as Pakistan confronts economic problems and a growing Islamic extremist movement.

Musharraf, meanwhile, has few resources to draw on these days.

"It's political suicide for anyone to go with Musharraf -- he's totally isolated," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political and social scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company