When General Pervez Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, he gave himself the curious title “chief executive.” He disbanded parliament, retained his position as army chief of staff, and told the people of Pakistan he had stepped in only temporarily, to curtail the corruption and cronyism that had taken hold of the country under its democratically elected rulers. He promised to restore democracy and retreat to his old job as soon as he had cleaned up the system. Many Pakistanis, tired of the flagrant corruption and self-serving policies of Nawaz Sharif, the ousted prime minister, and his on-again, off-again successor, Benazir Bhutto, welcomed him.
By February 2003, when I arrived in Pakistan, Musharraf had changed his tune. Four months earlier, succumbing to pressure from his cherry-picked supreme court and confident of his ability to secure a governing coalition, he had finally allowed long-deferred parliamentary elections. But it was clear that he had no intention of listening to parliament. As chief executive (he finally changed his title to president in June 2001), he had passed a number of unilateral amendments to the constitution, consolidating power in his hands, neutering the judicial system, establishing a new military panel of experts with far-reaching and ill-defined jurisdiction, creating new layers in the civil service to bypass existing power structures, and making it possible, contrary to his earlier assertions, for him to retain his position of army chief while also running the country. The new parliament refused to rubber-stamp his constitutional amendments, and was effectively deadlocked until December, when Musharraf reached an accommodation with the religious parties that gave him a governing majority. To secure their support, he promised to relinquish his position as head of the army by the end of the following year. Nearly four years later, he has yet to do so.