Monday, May. 08, 2006

Pervez Musharraf

In an era superrich in nightmare scenarios, nothing disturbs the sleep of world leaders more than the prospect of chaos in Pakistan—and jihadists' gaining control over its nuclear weapons. Standing between order and that cataclysm, those leaders believe, is General Pervez Musharraf, the country's leader since 1999. On Sept. 12, 2001, Musharraf made a snap decision to side with the U.S. in the not-yet-named global war on terrorism, despite his country's longtime support for the Taliban. U.S.-Pakistani cooperation has since led to the arrest of al-Qaeda kingpins and a diminution of the threat from Osama bin Laden's group. Called "my buddy" by George W. Bush, Musharraf, 62, has paid a price for his decision, having been the target of multiple assassination attempts by the militants who infest his country. His ties with the U.S. enrage religious radicals, who are his most dangerous opponents.

Musharraf styles himself a blunt-talking soldier. Yet his rule has a circus quality—half high-wire act, half tiger riding. He has yet to confront the broader jihadist movement, and he has two local rebellions to deal with. Musharraf remains the West's best bet in Pakistan. The question is whether he is good enough.

Benjamin is co-author of The Next Attack