Loory: Pakistan is considered to be an important ally of the United States in the war against terrorism and the campaign to convert authoritarian governments to democracy. Pakistan’s ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, came to power in 1999 in a military coup with the intent of bringing the rule of law and some personal freedom to a country where corruption and oppression highlighted government operations. By 2003, Musharraf began to regress, and the U.S. war in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and bring al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden to justice was in full swing. The U.S. counted on Pakistan to help, but it was getting little. Instead, it discovered that the man who had made Pakistan a nuclear power had been selling his services to North Korea and Iran, but Musharraf did little to discipline him. Despite U.S. fears about nuclear proliferation, the Bush administration continued to lavish some $10 billion a year in aid to its Pakistani allies. Last weekend, Musharraf staged his second coup — dissolving parliament, suspending the constitution, closing down the Supreme Court and arresting political opposition. Musharraf has indicated he will postpone parliamentary elections slated for January to as long as two years. Opposition leaders have been arrested and face the death penalty. What is going on in Pakistan?
Zaffar Abbas, resident editor, The Dawn, Islamabad, Pakistan: It’s not a healthy situation, but some relief has come in Musharraf’s announcement that elections will be held by Feb. 15. The real issue Pakistanis face is who to trust. There are two sets of judiciary in the country — one led by the former chief justice who was sacked by Musharraf and a new set of Supreme Court judges headed by another chief justice. Who is legitimate? Musharraf banned all the television channels in the country, so nobody has access to information.
Loory: Is Musharraf going to give up his military role and be a civilian leader of the country?
Abbas: He will eventually if the lawyers and the politicians accept his decision to sack the chief justice of Pakistan and a number of senior judges. If that is acceptable to the politicians and lawyers, he is likely to retire as chief of the army because his goal will be achieved, neutralizing the biggest opponent of his in the country, the Supreme Court of Pakistan. If that is not acceptable and the agitation continues in Pakistan, he may continue to hold both the offices of army chief and president.
Loory: Can we believe that elections will be held in February?
Simon Tisdall, assistant editor, The Guardian, London: Usually, Musharraf is a man of his word. It depends on whether the Supreme Court decides that he can move over to civilian presidency. The emergency was declared because there was doubt over whether it would allow him to do that. Musharraf then preempted that by closing down the court and declaring a state of emergency.
Loory: President Bush called Musharraf and urged him to restore order and to hold the election. What impact is the U.S. having in Pakistan?
Glenn Kessler, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C.: Pakistan is moving at the pace that Musharraf wants it to. The Bush administration’s response to this has been extremely tepid. It took the president about four or five days before he even called Musharraf. Musharraf knows that he has the Bush administration over a barrel because the U.S. feels it needs him in the fight against al-Qaida. Musharraf has promised repeatedly to U.S. officials that he would take off his army uniform, but it never happened. By announcing the February date, he takes some of the pressure off. It remains to be seen whether he fulfills the promises that he has broken over the years.
Loory: What impact is the emergency state having on Pakistan’s relations with India?
Narayani Ganesh, senior assistant editor, The Times of India, New Delhi: India is waiting to see what will happen about the state of emergency. Largely, the public protest in Pakistan is because of the anger created because martial law has been imposed for Musharraf’s personal gain rather than to save the country. Whether that is true or whether he has done this to save the country, we have no way of finding out.
Abbas: Musharraf tried to justify the emergency-state edict by saying it will help Pakistan go after the militants in the war on terror, something that was being blocked by orders of the Supreme Court. The feeling in Pakistan, however, is that the action against the Supreme Court and against the media is largely to prolong his stay in power. Pakistan now has a situation where a large percent of judges are no longer judges and citizens can’t watch news channels. The blackout is to consolidate Musharraf’s power. Musharraf has done some good work in the country, but the people want democracy, and he’s delaying that to prolong his stay in power.
Loory: The U.S. appears to be in opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s camp. Is it making a mistake?
Kessler: An argument could be made that the U.S. was too slow in reaching out to Bhutto and had put all of its cards on Musharraf because it viewed him as the indispensable ally in the war on terrorism. Belatedly, there are now reports that the U.S. is reaching out to opposition leaders and military officials in Pakistan beyond Musharraf.
Tisdall: There is a power-sharing deal between Musharraf and Bhutto. The basis of it is that Musharraf leaves the army and becomes a civilian president and she becomes the prime minister. That is why Bhutto’s party leaders were not rounded up the way other opposition leaders were. It’s why Bhutto has been careful in her response to this state of emergency and has left in the possibility of talking to Musharraf. It’s also why Musharraf will keep his promise and hold these elections if he is allowed to take the honorable route out to the presidency.
Abbas: The deal is very much there, and both sides might like to see it work. Bhutto is a smart politician. She has struck deals in the past, and she has dumped her allies in the past. If Musharraf can pull through this crisis, then Bhutto and Musharraf can coexist and work in the next administration. But if this protest continues, Bhutto may side with the people against Musharraf and may try to lead opposition rallies to oust him from power.
Loory: Pakistan and India are nuclear powers. How much concern should there be about possible use of nuclear weapons?
Ganesh: Both countries are capable of exercising the control required to see that things don’t go off the handle. It’s amazing how people-to-people contact between people in India and Pakistan has always been friendly, warm and trusting. It’s only at the governmental levels, at the level of foreign policy or border dispute, that all these problems come in.
Loory: This seems like a no-win situation. The Bush administration cannot get too involved in Pakistani politics. But the leaving of forces there to solve the problem on their own creates a situation of potential peril for the whole world.
Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Devin Benton, Yue Li, Heather Perne and Catherine Wolf.