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Pakistan still faces instability

Sunday, August 24, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT

Loory: Under threat of impeachment, the embattled ruler of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, resigned his presidency last week. He said he didn't do anything wrong, but he was leaving office for the good of his country. Musharraf stands accused of weakening Pakistani democracy by suspending its constitution and by firing high court judges who opposed the suspension. When opposition grew too strong, Musharraf resigned his army position and rescheduled a parliamentary election he had postponed. Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, was assassinated during the election campaign. Her party and its opponent formed a coalition to organize a government with Musharraf still in the presidency. The Bush administration considered Musharraf a strong ally in the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. However, supporters in the Pakistani army and the secret service of the two terrorist organizations allowed them to flourish in Pakistan's border areas. What is happening in Islamabad and what progress is being made to put a government together after Musharraf's resignation?

Navid Rana, senior correspondent, Geo Television Network, Islamabad, Pakistan: The nation is relieved at Musharraf's departure. He had withdrawn elected governments and installed his own party, which won the 2002 election. Since then, he continued dictating, and his prime ministers were only rubber stamps. That changed through the ballot. For the first time in Pakistan, an army general had to leave because an assembly, his electoral college, voted him out. Now people are anxious about the judges Musharraf sacked unlawfully. Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, is bargaining for the presidency. He thinks he can restore the judges. It is again dirty politics, but people are relieved Musharraf isn't there.

Loory: Will Musharraf go into exile or remain in Pakistan?

Rana: Musharraf's aides, with him since 1999, have left him isolated. According to some, it is better if he leaves Pakistan, but nobody knows where he will go. Americans see him as a security threat because al-Qaida and the Taliban are after him. Musharraf will be cautious about his security. He might go to Saudi Arabia. Saudi monarchs have sent a plane. They're expected to take him for a pilgrimage, and he might settle in Turkey or in the U.S.

Another important question is what will happen to law and order? Nawaz Sharif has hinted people won't blindly follow what Musharraf carried out on the advice of American friends. That is where the drama lies, whether the government has enough strength to change the policies and still be friends with the U.S. and cooperate in the war on terror.

Loory: What is the Bush administration's attitude toward what is happening in Pakistan?

Sara Carter, national security/Pentagon correspondent, The Washington Times, Washington, D.C.: Musharraf's resignation is a disappointment to the president, but what Musharraf was doing for the U.S. was exaggerated, according to intelligence officials. They felt enough wasn't being done, that the Pakistani government took in stride the growing al-Qaida presence and the insurgence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Several weeks ago, Prime Minister Gilani's attitude was, we're going to work with our coalition partners but everything has to come through us first. This has been a struggle for U.S. intelligence and the coalition partners trying to quell al-Qaida. Bush put a lot of eggs in one basket, and Musharraf didn't come through for the U.S. The little he did wasn't enough.

Loory: How does the Afghan government view what is happening in Pakistan?

Rahimullah Samander, news director, WAKHT News Agency, Kabul, Afghanistan: Afghan officials said they hope a new president will help the democracy. The Pakistani army has visited Afghanistan and has met with the NATO and Afghan chief of army and defense minister. They had three-party talks on these issues. The Afghan media is talking more about whether Pakistan will be stable, whether this coalition between Sharif and Zardari will be extended for a long time.

Rana: Policy in Pakistan after Musharraf will be formed after consulting the parliament. Before it was one man's rule. Musharraf would talk to somebody in the U.S. and follow that. Americans wanted everything to be done from Pakistan, despite having NATO forces and their own troops. Everything had to be filtered down from the Pakistani side of the border. Americans have to be realistic about their own objectives. Now the policies will go through parliament, which Americans may not like. They like them to be followed under the table, like Musharraf was trying to do the past nine years.

Carter: In the hunt for al-Qaida and the growing Taliban insurgency in the FATA region, intelligence agents say they have to go through many people before getting to their targets - an al-Qaida leader, an al-Qaida training camp or an insurgency. They're concerned that they're unable to get there in time because the Inter-Services Intelligence has been infiltrated with sympathizers for al-Qaida and the Taliban. Once it goes through parliament, this will be another heavy burden on the coalition forces and the intelligence agencies, although the Pakistani people feel it is necessary.

Loory: The Pakistani army has been an important force in Pakistan's government. Where does it stand on Musharraf's resignation?

Rana: The Pakistani army distanced itself from Musharraf. The army chief wasn't present at a dinner Musharraf hosted before the independence day, signaling the army wasn't party to it. The prime minister and government officials also didn't entertain the invitation. Thursday's blasts at the arms depot signify there is no future for the army in politics. It doesn't have the time and the energy to back another dictator or another liability it cannot afford.

Surya Gangadharan, foreign editor, CNN-IBN, New Delhi: There is a sense in India that Gilani's civilian government isn't in control and has given an opportunity for the army and the intelligence services to pursue their own agendas.

Loory: Is there concern in Washington about Pakistan's nuclear weapons?

Carter: The concern regarding the nuclear issue isn't as significant as the concerns about al-Qaida and the Taliban insurgency. Estimates say there are 50 to 100 nuclear weapons in Pakistan, but nobody has the exact number. The new government's stability under Gilani isn't as strong as many people would like it to be. Any concern regarding nuclear weapons would be that people would like to see the prime minister as a stronger figure in Pakistan, in control politically and militarily.

Gangadharan: There is a sense that America's obsession with this war on terror has destabilized Pakistan. This single-minded obsession with terrorists without realizing the delicate situation will only make problems worse.

Carter: There are a lot of lessons to be learned, especially for the Americans. But one also has to remember 9/11 was the first time there was such a large attack on U.S. soil, and the response it generated was great. Now the U.S. is looking at avoiding another attack like that. Intelligence agencies are seeing an extraordinary growth of al-Qaida and various insurgent groups in the FATA region. That's the impetus behind this war on terror and this obsession with squelching it.

Loory: Unfortunately, Pakistan is likely to remain one of those trouble spots throughout the world that cannot recover from instability.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Christopher Hamby, Sananda Sahoo and Catherine Wolf. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.

 


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