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Pakistani Government Says Power-sharing Talks Ongoing

August 30, 2007 at 6:40 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner is in Pakistan reporting for us on the power struggles there. She talked earlier today with Judy Woodruff from the city of Lahore.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, thank you for talking with us. First, there’s an announcement from Benazir Bhutto that there’s been a deal to share power. Then, Musharraf’s people say that’s not so. What’s going on?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, at midnight last night here in Pakistan, both sides were saying they were this close to a deal. Bhutto was saying 90 percent; the Musharraf people were saying it was a very advanced stage.

But there were a couple of sticking points, and this has to do, of course, with moving Pakistan from military to civilian rule. So this morning in the paper, what you had was dueling headlines, one saying that Musharraf was ready to give up his “skin,” what he once called his uniform, his skin, and the other one saying that there were sticking points that were delaying the deal.

I think what we’re seeing here is the classic law of negotiating, which is nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it’s not unraveling, or maybe it is?

MARGARET WARNER: The longer it hangs out there, 90 percent done but not done, the more the different parties start picking at it. And this is a very complicated deal that would have him shed the uniform but be re-elected as a civilian president and Bhutto and the other exiled former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, be able to return and run in the parliamentary elections. One of them might be prime minister.

But there are people in her center-left party who don’t like it. They’ve been grumbling for a while about her dealing with this, quote, “dictator.” And then today, as details of, outlines of the deal leaked out, then they were louder rumbles for members of his party and some of the coalition that he depends on in parliament, including the Islamic parties, including the party that essentially runs Karachi, that he might not be able to count on their votes.

And so, as I said, the longer it hangs out there, the harder it may get to accomplish. Meanwhile, the outlier, Nawaz Sharif, is saying he’ll have nothing of a deal that lets Musharraf stay on as president. He’s made announcements he’s coming here September 10th, no doubt to a hero’s welcome, risking being detained on old charges. And one of his advisers from London said to me last night, you know, this is way too little, too late. We’re beyond that. This isn’t going to save Musharraf.

Word from Musharraf

JUDY WOODRUFF: And has Musharraf said anything publicly, Margaret?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, he had his weekly TV show tonight, and it was kind of an American-style -- you know, what American presidents do, which is pretty much of a friendly audience. But then he talked about the economy, all the wonderful things he'd done for the economy.

So one in the audience then asked a question. It was a businessman. And he said, "Why are you negotiating with the people that drove the economy of Pakistan to rock bottom?" Which shows, you know, the cracks in his base of support. And he kind of sidestepped it. He said, "Oh, there are a lot of distortions out there." And then he went off into sort a segue about, "This isn't a dictatorship."

But then he said a couple of things about when he thought the elections should be held, his elections should be held, something about the national security council, too detailed to go into here. But he did say, well, now the parliamentary elections will be free and fair, but the Bhutto camp, which was watching very eagerly in both London and in Islamabad, did not take his comments as the kind of confidence-building comments or announcement they were looking for.

Reactions from Pakistanis

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Margaret, you've only been in Pakistan for a few days. You've already been to four cities. What are the people there saying about this?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, to gauge that, Judy, we went last night when we arrived in Lahore to Food Street, an open air sort of restaurant row, open air kabobs being grilled, and young families. Most of these are young, white-collar workers, people in telecom and banking and finance who really -- jobs have been created for those people under the Musharraf era.

And it was quite striking. One, they are very unhappy with having a general as their president. One man who's the manager of a branch for a large U.S. multinational bank here in Lahore said, "You know, we should be a democracy, not a dictatorship."

And there was also unhappiness with the idea that these insiders would cook up this deal without participation by the public. And one young woman who's an MBA student said, "Well, he's done a lot for the economy," she said, "but, you know, the people who've demonstrated in the streets this spring," protesting his firing of the chief justice, "they were demonstrating for democracy, and this isn't democracy. This is like bringing back the past."

Alternatives to power sharing

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last thing, Margaret. What happens if this power-sharing deal between Bhutto and Musharraf doesn't come together? What's the alternative?

MARGARET WARNER: The only alternative people are talking about here, Judy, is martial law. And that's because, under the constitution, something has to happen. He has to get himself re-elected between September and October 15th.

So if he tries to do something without a deal, there are all these constitutional challenges piling up in the courts already. So martial law means that the army takes over all institutions, including the courts. And you have to remember here that Pakistan in its 60 years has essentially been seesawed between civilian and military rule, so martial law is not an alien concept here.

Tonight, Musharraf at one point said martial law and emergency rule is not Pakistan's future, he said, "but Pakistan comes first." Now, whether that was just a threat to move negotiations his way or a prediction remains to be seen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Thank you, Margaret Warner, joining us from Lahore in Pakistan. Margaret, thanks.