His autobiography, "In the Line of Fire," went on sale Monday and
is aptly titled. Since Sept. 11, Pakistan's President Pervez
Musharraf has survived three assassination attempts by Muslim
extremists. Later this week, Mr. Musharraf meets with the US and
Afghan presidents in Washington to discuss the war on terror.
When the US surveys the world, there are few more pivotal players
in that war than Musharraf. But at home, Pakistan's moderate leader
is embattled. To strengthen his position, he's recently struck deals
with a hard-line Islamic political party that, analysts say, could
undermine counterterrorism efforts.
A controversial peace accord with Taliban militants in early
September effectively gives the fighters open mobility in areas
bordering Afghanistan. While he defends it, Musharraf doesn't
mention that the accord is also paying political dividends to him
and a peculiar, relatively unmentioned bedfellow: Jamiat Ulema-e-
Islam (JUI) or the Council of Islamic Clerics. This hard-line
Islamist party controls North Waziristan, a province bordering
Afghanistan, and brokered the deal.
JUI, which runs most of Pakistan's religious schools or
madrassahs, helped educate and indoctrinate the Taliban throughout
the 1980s and '90s. But today they are emerging as Musharraf's new
JUI officials deny any direct link with the Taliban, but say they
support them ideologically. "There is no question of sympathies,"
says Sahizada Khaled Ahmed Banoori, chief patron of JUI in NWFP.
"JUI is a part of parliament. It means they are also part of the
government. They are going to assist completely those things which
are good for the country."
A new ally, but at what price?
As elections loom, JUI has become a trusted ally at a time when
the president finds himself increasingly alienated from other
parties. But there are potential costs to such an alliance, both for
Pakistan and the international community. The concern is that as JUI
becomes more important to Musharraf's political survival, it will
make him less effective against the Taliban.
"His ability [to take on the Taliban] is compromised as long as
he's got an alliance with the JUI," says Samina Ahmed, South Asia
project director of the International Crisis Group. But he adds:
"Who else is going to be there to keep Musharraf's political house
in order in Balochistan besides JUI."
And Musharraf's road to political survival runs through the
province of Balochistan and North Western Frontier Provinces (NWFP),
two of the largest in Pakistan.
Analysts predict that Musharraf will need JUI to bring in votes
in those regions during the presidential election of 2007, and their
support for any government he forms should he win.
JUI won't say openly if it plans to side with Musharraf.
"Everything that is good for the country, we will support that,"
says Mr. Banoori, adding that where Musharraf's policies are sound,
JUI will support him.
But currently, Balochistan and NWFP are the provinces least
likely to side with him. In August, Musharraf's army assassinated
revered tribal leader Nawab Mohammed Akbar Khan Bugti, sparking
riots in Balochistan and calls for secession. Few, if any, Baloch
politicians support Musharraf now. The case is the same in NWFP,
where the Pakistani military's hunt for Al Qaeda and the Taliban has
left hundreds of civilians dead and a rising tide of resentment
against the government.
When Musharraf looked for a way out of both quagmires, he turned
In North Waziristan, JUI leaders responded by flexing their
political muscles: they brought local Pakistani Taliban to the table
and negotiated a cease-fire. …