The comfortable victory by Pakistan's president General Pervez Musharraf in Saturday's elections has not lifted his credentials to deal aggressively with the country's fight against terrorism, senior Western diplomats and analysts warned on Sunday.
"This victory does not necessarily secure General Musharraf's position. He faces powerful challenges seldom faced by another Pakistani ruler," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent Pakistani commentator on military and security affairs in an interview with CBS News. "Winning a tenure for another five years says nothing about General Musharraf's ability to tackle the problem of militant violence," Dr. Rizvi added.
in a presidential election boycotted by nearly the entire opposition, who snubbed the vote. They claimed it was undemocratic and unconstitutional for the U.S.-backed general, who seized power in a 1999 coup, to run while still army chief. Musharraf dismissed criticism that the boycott had undermined the legitimacy of the election.
While members of Pakistan's ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid e Azam (PML-Q) - on Sunday celebrated General Musharraf's victory, Pakistan troops battled hardcore pro-Taliban and al Qaeda militants in a remote region near the Afghan border. Twenty Pakistani soldiers and up to 50 militants were killed.
The fighting was triggered when Islamic militants ambushed a militant convoy near Mir Ali, a town in the North Waziristan region, on Saturday, almost coinciding with the beginning of President Musharraf's victory celebrations.
Senior western diplomats in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News warned, Musharraf's close ties with the U.S. had fast become a liability for him in a country whene anti-American sentiment among the public has grown rapidly, especially following Washington's war in Iraq and the presence of troops in Afghanistan.
"The U.S. has commended Pakistan over the completion of its elections. But I wonder how many people in the U.S. administration recognize that public association by a Pakistani leader to the U.S. will not make him popular in his country," said a Western ambassador who spoke to CBS News on the condition that he would not be named.
The run-up to Saturday's presidential election was controversial in view of the boycott by a part of the political opposition known as the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), whose members include a six-party alliance of Islamists known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif group (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
General Musharraf has won the election with a large majority, while a last-minute agreement - as part of a powersharing formula - with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) brought some relief for the embattled Pakistani president. The PPP chose to just abstain from voting in the presidential election in a relative acceptance of the polling process rather than ordering its members to resign from the federal and four provincial legislatures, which would have deepened the crisis surrounding legitimacy of the polls.
Legal experts say the General's victory may strengthen his position in a court battle that he faces with the two candidates opposing him in the presidential election. The court is likely to take the view that since the presidential elections have already take place, Musharraf must be allowed to continue holding on to his office. The Geneal's opponents challenged his candidacy on the grounds that he could be a candidate while also serving as chief of the army staff - a position restricted under Pakistan's constitution.
On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that the presidential election must go ahead, with a hearing of the challenge set for October 17.
"Democracy means majority, whether there is opposition or no opposition," declared Musharraf on Saturday night after the results were announced. "A majority - a vast majority - have voted for me, and therefore that result is the result," he added.
On Monday, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, the former head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) counter espionage agency, will take over as the new vice chief of army staff, and will potentially succeed Musharraf when he steps down from his army position by November 15.
But analysts warn General Musharraf's position will continue to remain under pressure from an increasingly vocal opposition, as well as his potentially lukewarm relations with the judiciary. His relations with the Supreme Court have been surrounded with controversy since he suspended Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, chief justice of the Supreme Court, in March this year on vague charges of misconduct. Chaudhary was restored to his position as chief justice in July in a major setback to Musharraf's standing in the country.
Musharraf's relations with Islamic hardliners have also deteriorated in recent months since he ordered his military commandos to storm Islamabad's Lal (red) mosque and its adjoining women's seminary known as jamia-e-hifza in July this year, after the two complexes were turned in to Taliban-like seminaries.
Since July, Pakistani military troops and the government have braved a number of suicide and armed attacks which appear to be in reprisal for the action against the lal mosque and jamia-e-hifza.
"How can anyone believe that Musharraf's victory will present him with a bed of roses? The reality is that this president is probably the most embattled in Pakistan's history," Irfan Siddiqui, a prominent political columnist for the mass circulation Nawa-I-Waqt Urdu newspaper, said in a CBS News interview. "As Musharraf tries to increasingly secure his position, he is up against a growing list of challenges."
"This is not an easy victory," he concluded.
By Farhan Bokhari