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October 26, 1999
Musharraf's team is perceived as clean and hard-working
Andrew Hill in Islamabad
General Pervez Musharraf has opted for experienced technocrats untainted by close links to previous governments in a team to steer the country out of isolation and bankruptcy.
''The whole team seems to be 'clean', hard-working and experienced. If I had one reservation it is that is a bit on the old side,'' said one Islamabad diplomat.
Diplomats said Gen Musharraf, who seized power two weeks ago and is currently visiting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, had shunned high-profile figures from the ousted government of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif or his predecessor, Benazir Bhutto.
He named a four-member civilian team to sit on the National Security Council together with himself and the heads of the navy and air force and an attorney-general and ministers of finance and foreign affairs in an embryonic cabinet.
''They've all served one master or the other but emerged unscathed. It's the team of technocrats we expected, broadly neutral, experienced and safe,'' said another diplomat.
Gen Musharraf had hoped to announce an entire cabinet team but opted to name the NSC and three cabinet members to head off a clamour to fill the vacuum left by the dismissal of Sharif and his entire 40-member cabinet, the diplomats said.
The appointment of Abdul Sattar, 68, as foreign minister raised some eyebrows as he is a known hard-liner and does not fit the moderate liberal mould of other appointments.
He is a member of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan's Teherik-i-Insaf party, which had no seats in the Parliament Gen Musharraf suspended and is viewed as an embryonic grouping still seeking a power base and clear-cut profile.
''He's very right-wing on India and an expert on Afghanistan, having worked on the Geneva accords that ended the Soviet occupation there. But on India he will be utterly rigid,'' said a political analysts who declined to be named.
His appointment echoed Gen Musharraf's warning in a keynote address two weeks ago that Pakistan would not budge from its demands that India hold a UN-mandated plebiscite in disputed Kashmir to solve the flash-point dispute.
Gen Musharraf unilaterally withdrew some troops from the border to wind down tension after summer clashes over Kargil, in northern Kashmir, but sent India's new government a warning that the military was ready to defend the country if attacked.
But the 56-year-old leader made clear that turning around an economy mired in 32 billion dollars of debt and living a hand to mouth existence on International Monetary Fund loans was his main priority.
State Bank of Pakistan Governor Mohammad Yaqub and US-based banker Shaukat Aziz were entrusted with the most daunting task of steering Pakistan's economy out of a black hole of debt, low growth and corruption.
Gen Musharraf, in remarks published today, said turning the near-bankrupt economy around was his main task before contemplating a return to democratic rule.
Asked if he would hand over power to an elected civilian government, Gen Musharraf told the London-based Arabi daily Asharq al-Awsat: ''There is no specific time regarding this. All I know is that I will concentrate on improving the economic situation in the country, consolidate unity and lead Pakistan to new horizons. That is when my work is finished and I hope this will happen as soon as possible.''
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