Among the new laws of the land is one ensuring that Musharraf, who toppled the civilian government in a 1999 military coup, will rule for another five years. Another amendment sets up a National Security Council, packed with Musharraf's military and civilian appointees, which will oversee the next elected Prime Minister and his cabinet. The General also awarded himself the right to dissolve Parliament. "Musharraf might as well declare himself as the absolute monarch for life," huffed a spokesman from the Pakistan People's Party. Another opposition group, the Pakistan Muslim League, vowed to use "every step short of violence" to battle Musharraf.
Musharraf is openly disdainful of his chief political rivals, exiled former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, whom he recently branded as plunderers of the public treasury. But Bhutto still wants to re-enter politics; she plans to run in the Oct. 10 parliamentary elections, even though Musharraf has threatened to arrest her if she dares return from her London exile.
Pakistan's strongman has a potent ally in the U.S., which has enlisted his support in the fight against al-Qaeda. While the U.S. State Department expressed "concern" over Musharraf's constitutional changes, President George W. Bush remained steadfastly in his corner. "He's still tight with us in the war against terror, and that's what I appreciate," Bush said. Pakistani opposition groups argue that stronger democracy—not a stronger dictator—will be Washington's best bulwark against terror.