Pakistan: The US's man has left

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In a long resignation speech, General Pervez Musharraf, dictator of Pakistan, finally stood down last month.

The "hard" man of Pakistani politics looked pathetic as he claimed to be acting "for the good of the country" and placing himself in "the hands of the people".

One can be forgiven for forgetting that Musharraf came to power in 1999 in a military coup. He sacked the elected government and forced its leader, Nawaz Sharif, into political exile. Claiming to be "Mr Clean", he promised an end to corruption and nepotism.

Hatred of elected politicians was such that the coup was welcomed by many sections of Pakistani society, believing that economic improvements would come and lead eventually to a return of elected government. Economic growth did follow. However, the beneficiaries of this were not the poor but the landed families, urban rich and the armed forces. Inflation is now at over 24 percent, and 86 percent of the population cannot afford wheat.

The 9/11 attacks catapulted Pakistan onto centre stage. As the US prepared to attack Afghanistan, Musharraf became a fully signed up member of George Bush's "war on terror", providing the US army with bases, intelligence and personnel.

Hailed as a democrat in the West, this policy was to cost him dear in Pakistan itself. It entailed an enormous U-turn in terms of the Taliban, who the Pakistani state had supported and nurtured. Afghanistan represented a buffer zone against India, particularly over divided Kashmir. Some in the Pakistani army have come to identify with the ideological Islamist goals of the Taliban, who in return share the army high command view that Kashmir has to be "liberated" from India.

This marriage of convenience was ripped apart by Musharraf's willingness to act as Bush's proxy in the region. Jihadist and mainstream Islamist groups have attacked his regime for surrendering to the US. Musharraf has sent the army into the tribal areas around Waziristan and suppressed nationalist uprisings in Baluchistan. Increasing US incursions into Pakistani territory have destabilised the region further.

As his standing plummeted, Musharraf resorted to more authoritarian methods. He sacked the chief justice for daring to question his rule, and unleashed a huge protest movement of lawyers, human rights activists, students and workers. He ordered the storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad which resulted in scores of deaths. He has paraded himself as the saviour of Pakistan's democracy and the sole bulwark against an Islamist takeover of the country.

This myth was shattered with the election results in February when a range of Islamist parties were decimated at the polls. Musharraf's party was not spared either, as the electorate turned against the dictator, his pro-US policies and spiralling living costs. The governing coalition demanded his removal and threatened impeachment if he did not go. His sole backers were the US and the army, but they realised reluctantly that this was not a tenable position.

The resignation represents a huge blow to the US and its designs for the region. The dictator has gone but the problems afflicting Pakistan - from economic crisis, religious and ethnic tensions to militarisation - have not.