THERE are two ways of looking at Pervez Musharraf's “doffing” of his uniform: one is that he has yielded to the Commonwealth and other democratic pressures which believed that Pakistan's future would be strengthened if he left the army; the other is that by losing his double grip on his country as President and army chief he will have weakened the forces of law and order and the struggle against Islamist militancy. In Washington President Bush will be wondering how he can reconcile these two propositions. In 2001 he embraced the dictator Musharraf because he wanted his help in the war against Afghanistan's Taliban; six years later he praises the democrat Musharraf even though Osama bin Laden has not been captured, Afghanistan remains a fractured country and the Taliban threaten peace on Pakistan's north-west borders. Much now depends on how General Ashfaq Kayani, the new chief of the army, plays his cards. “Kayani is loyal to Musharraf but also to Pakistan” was one perceptive assessment by a Western military official this week. Kayani's first test is likely to be over civil rather than military matters. If Musharraf continues on his democratic path by calling off the state of emergency and releasing imprisoned judges, activists and politicians in time for the early January elections, Pakistan will see two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, leading their volatile parties in bitterly-fought election campaigns. It will not be an easy time for the forces of law and order.


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