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Thousands Protest Emergency Rule in Pakistan

November 5, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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Opposition groups said thousands of their supporters have been arrested in the wake of President Pervez Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule this weekend. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and two experts consider the political unrest in Pakistan.

GWEN IFILL: The continuing crackdown in Pakistan. We begin with this report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM, ITV News Correspondent: The high court in Lahore this morning, more than 2,000 lawyers protesting about the state of emergency. They clashed with police, wielding batons and bamboo sticks. Some lawyers hurled rocks, and the police hurled them back.

But only those few in Pakistan with satellite TV have seen these pictures from the private Dawn channel. Cable services have been cut, and state television isn’t showing scenes of violence.

Lahore’s detention centers are filling up with unusual prisoners, lawyers arrested today joining several human rights campaigners, some of them elderly, seized at a meeting last night.

President Musharraf suggested that lawyers, not terrorists, are destabilizing Pakistan. They say he is the problem.

PROTESTORS: Go, Musharraf, go! Go, Musharraf, go! Go, Musharraf, go! Go, Musharraf, go!

LINDSEY HILSUM: It was a similar scene at Karachi high court, where striking and protesting lawyers clashed with police, and several were arrested. The protests were calmer here in Islamabad, the red armbands saying, “No to dictatorship.”

The judges who were going to rule that President Musharraf’s election last month was illegal are now being held incommunicado. The political opposition is wavering; only the legal establishment is a real challenge to the president.

President Musharraf, meanwhile, was shown on state television explaining his actions to resident ambassadors. It seems that his target was the judiciary. He told them he still plans to become a civilian president.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, President of Pakistan: I am determined to execute this third stage of transition fully. And I’m determined to remove my uniform. Once we correct these pillars in judiciary and the executive and the parliament legislating, I can assure you there will be harmony.

LINDSEY HILSUM: But his international backers are alarmed.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: I want to be very clear. We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections. It is also true that President Musharraf has said that he would take off his uniform; that would be an important step.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, was shown meeting the defense committee. He said that elections will be held, but maybe not by January as planned.

Ugly mood in the streets

GWEN IFILL: For more on the political upheaval, Margaret Warner talked earlier today with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the head of the Pakistan People's Party. She spoke by telephone from Karachi.

MARGARET WARNER: Benazir Bhutto, thank you for joining us. What can you tell us about where you are right now and what it's been like there today?

BENAZIR BHUTTO, Former Pakistani Prime Minister: I'm in Karachi. The mood in the streets is very ugly. Hundreds of lawyers have been arrested across the nation. They were coming out in peaceful processions, calling for the restoration of our constitution. The police came upon them; they charged them, beat them. There were people in police uniforms.

MARGARET WARNER: You speak of the police enforcing this. What about the Pakistani military? Do you think Musharraf has the full support of his military?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, I wouldn't go that far. I don't have any direct information from the military, but what I hear is that the armed forces are not happy with this new order. They are already involved in trying to defend the country from the terrorist threat in the tribal areas.

So the feedback I'm getting from my party, which has brothers and relatives in the armed forces, is that the armed forces don't want to be sucked in politically. They want to concentrate on the job at hand, and the job at hand is dealing with the threat to Pakistan from the terrorists.

MARGARET WARNER: Musharraf justified this action by saying he needs this power to fight the growing threat from Islamic insurgents. You were the target of such terrorism yourself less than three weeks ago. Is there something to his rationale?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, terrorism is a threat to Pakistan, but I don't agree to the argument that extra-constitutional means are necessary to combat that. The fact is we've had a dictatorship for the last several years, and instead of containing terrorism, that dictatorship has actually fueled the terrorism. And if he really wants to stop terrorism, he has to address the underlying problem, that is to make people stakeholders in their own society by empowering them through free elections.

MARGARET WARNER: Have you spoken to Musharraf or his top people about their intentions on the elections? Do you know if they plan to go ahead with the January 15th parliamentary elections, in which you'd planned to run?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, General Musharraf is saying that he's going to hold the election on schedule, but the manner in which it has been said, that it might be delayed by 10 days, might be delayed by 15 days. His prime minister has given a statement saying it could be delayed for one year. The president of the ruling party has said that they were to be delayed for one year.

There's a lack of belief that these elections are going to go through, unless pressure is put on General Musharraf's regime to hold them on time.

We've advised General Musharraf to come on television and give a firm date for the restoration of the constitution, a firm date for the holding of elections on schedule, and a reaffirmation that he is going to retire as chief of army staff. And until he does that, the situation in the country will aggravate.

To defuse the situation, he must give firm dates, not generalized dates, assurances that the elections will be held on schedule, because that's neither here nor there.

A big breach of faith

Benazir Bhutto
Former Prime Minister
What happens in Pakistan will impact not only on what happens to us, the people here, but it will impact on the region, and it will impact on American foreign policy. Americans have an interest in the stability of Pakistan.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there any way now that you think Musharraf could serve as a civilian president in a democratic Pakistan with you potentially as prime minister after this?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, there's been a big breach of faith, because we had worked out a roadmap for a transition to democracy, and then suddenly they veered off that roadmap.

But now that he has taken these measures, there's no use crying over spilled milk. I think we have to look at how we can get out of the mess. So his position and his status would really depend on the measures he takes. Otherwise, the situation will get out of his hand and get out of everyone's hands.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, so far it's just been the lawyers and activists demonstrating, not the average Pakistanis. Why aren't your Pakistan People's Party members already out in the streets?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, our members are out. In the first place, we are out with the lawyers, and we were waiting to see whether General Musharraf would come on television and make these statements, and he hasn't done that. And we are going to now be holding a public meeting on November 9th. I'm in touch with other political parties also to work out with them further protests to increase the pressure on General Musharraf.

MARGARET WARNER: The Bush administration has said it's reviewing U.S. aid to Pakistan, but has also suggested that the military aid isn't in jeopardy. Are you calling on the U.S. to cut all aid if he doesn't roll this back?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, I'm asking the United States to make aid and assistance conditional to the restoration of our constitution, to General Musharraf's resigning as chief of army staff, and to the holding of fair, free and impartial elections on schedule, announced this November, to be completed by January 15th.

And what happens in Pakistan will impact not only on what happens to us, the people here, but it will impact on the region, and it will impact on American foreign policy. Americans have an interest in the stability of Pakistan.

And unfortunately, with the announcement of these extra-constitutional measures, our attention, the attention of my intelligence agencies, the attention of our administration has shifted from the fight against terrorism to rounding up political activists, judges, lawyers, members of the press, members of civil society. Pakistan can ill afford this crisis, and I believe the rest of the world can't afford it, either.

MARGARET WARNER: And, finally, are you free to move about?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Right now, I am free to move about, but I live in a state of uncertainty. I never know when the regime will move against me, but right now I am free to move about, and I'm going to leave the city of Karachi, go to our capital of Islamabad, where I shall be meeting with other political leaders.

MARGARET WARNER: Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, thank you so much for being with us.


Musharraf's desire for control

Daniel Markey
The Council on Foreign Relations
If he continues along this path and people come out into the streets against him, and the army is really forced to consider whether he's worth continuing on as the top guy, then the show may be over for him.

MARGARET WARNER: And for more now on what this means for Pakistan and the United States, we turn to Daniel Markey, who was on the State Department's policy planning staff from 2003 until early this year, focusing on South Asia. He's now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

And Stephen Cohen, who also served in State's policy planning office during the 1980s, he's written extensively about Pakistan and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

We invited the Pakistani ambassador to appear, but the embassy declined.

And welcome to you both. So, Dan Markey, why did Musharraf do this? And why now?

DANIEL MARKEY, Council on Foreign Relations: Well, I think it's pretty clear that President Musharraf was and his chief advisers were primarily concerned about the Supreme Court and its likely ruling against him that he could continue on in his capacity or his new capacity as newly elected president of Pakistan. And they believed that they needed to take action preemptively to get rid of the court, to move it out of the way, so they wouldn't have to face that hurdle. And this was the only action they felt would work.

MARGARET WARNER: And you're speaking, of course, of the parliament's election, re-election of him last month?

DANIEL MARKEY: That's correct. It's an indirect election.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Stephen Cohen, of course, he talked about terrorism and threat, security. Was that not a concern at all?

STEPHEN COHEN, Brookings Institution: Well, it was a concern, but I would add to Dan Markey's comments that, behind this, you have the factor of Musharraf's own massive ego. He really believes he's indispensable for the future of Pakistan. And being an army man, he has also desires to remain in control of the situation. So I think there's a personality factor there, as well.

But clearly, there was a security problem, but the security problem grew under his seven years of rule.

MARGARET WARNER: But now some of his supporters or people affiliated with the government are saying, well, the Supreme Court had, for instance, ordered some detainees released that Pakistani intelligence insisted were linked to terrorism. Was there anything to that?

STEPHEN COHEN: It's partially true, but I think the greater issue is that the Supreme Court began to act like a supreme court, and Pakistan had never had a supreme court that was this activist. It was like an American Supreme Court, and this is something that everybody found unacceptable, except those people who benefited directly from it.

MARGARET WARNER: So is Musharraf's power now unbridled under this new order that he's established? Is there any check on his power?

DANIEL MARKEY: No, I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say it's unbridled, simply because there's a lot of opposition to him. But in a legal sense, there are relatively few checks on his ability to take action. He has not dissolved the sitting parliament, so they still exist, but they were a rubber-stamp parliament to begin with.

I would say the checks on him are primarily the institution of the army itself, which is his primary base of support and always has been. So his capacity to keep them on board with his strategy and policy is the key determinant of his capacity to stay in power.

MARGARET WARNER: And what's your view of whether he has the military really behind him?

DANIEL MARKEY: I think as of now he does. I think that he is a man who's very confident. I think he's a man who has placed in key positions loyalists who are likely to support him for some time. But if he continues along this path and people come out into the streets against him, and the army is really forced to consider whether he's worth continuing on as the top guy, then the show may be over for him.

MARGARET WARNER: Bhutto said she'd been hearing that, in fact, many in the military are unhappy with this.

STEPHEN COHEN: I heard the same thing. They're primarily unhappy not because he's gathered power in his own hands, but because he's forced the army into a counterinsurgency operation for which they're not prepared and not trained, and they've suffered badly in this. They've been humiliated and embarrassed, both in the northwest frontier and so on, so I think that's another factor that may generate some discontent in the army.

Plus, if they do go to the streets in large numbers in Punjab, then you'll see the army taking another look at whether he's their man. And there are other generals, I think, who will be prepared to step in.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean and essentially stage their own transition?

STEPHEN COHEN: Yes, there would be a third coup in a row, his first coup, his own self-coup, and then presumably a coup to get rid of him. But that's a possibility, but very hard to predict for Pakistan, but clearly we saw this coming. There was no question that we saw this coming months ago. I'm surprised that the administration says that it was surprised, because the signs were very clear, at least two months ago.

MARGARET WARNER: And now, I guess, the administration is saying that, as of a week ago, they say they knew this was coming.

But so, Dan Markey, tell me this. Why haven't we seen tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people in the street yet? I mean, we do see people demonstrating, but they are mostly the lawyer community and the activist community. Where's everybody else?

DANIEL MARKEY: Well, I think that's a sign of how fractured the Pakistani political spectrum is and how poorly organized it has been, the weakness of the political parties as institutions within Pakistani political society. Partially they've been weakened by the Musharraf regime itself and by previous bouts of military rule and partially because, as institutions, they're not all that strong. That's one piece of it.

And the other piece of it is I think some key players, including Benazir Bhutto, have decided to wait and see and not to bring their people out into the streets yet and to see how this plays out, at least for days or weeks, until the momentum could build.

The lawyers, on the other hand, have already taken to the streets. They were out first in the last go-around. And they have less to lose. They're in some ways a more principled group, but they're also more closely linked to the court itself, and obviously this was a direct assault on the court.

Hopes for a deal

Stephen Cohen
The Brookings Institution
We don't want to drive Pakistan into the ground. That's one of the advantages the Pakistanis have. They know they're on the edge. And if we threaten to push them over, it hurts them, and it also hurts us.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you interpret what Bhutto said, that question about why the PPP members weren't out in the streets? And do you agree she's kind of giving them a little time?

STEPHEN COHEN: You tried to get her to say something dramatic, and she didn't want to say it. She fended you off. I think she still hopes that there will be a deal. She said that. And in a sense from an American point of view, that would be the best outcome.

But, again, a number of things can break that up, including a discontent in the army, the other civilian politicians who don't want to share power with her. In a sense, Musharraf may decide that he can run the country by himself.

MARGARET WARNER: But you interpreted that this meeting that she says they're going to have on Friday, that she was essentially agreeing or saying that she wasn't going to try to send her people out into the streets.

STEPHEN COHEN: No, I think she still hopes that the deal will work out.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Musharraf has shut down the independent media so that only people, as Lindsey Hilsum's piece pointed out, who have satellite dishes can see this Dawn television and others. What impact does that have on the ability of the opposition to rally people to get out into the streets?

DANIEL MARKEY: I think that's very significant. I mean, in a number of conversations that I've had with Musharraf's own people and advisers, they pointed to independent television and the new media in Pakistan, this explosion of electronic media that's taken place under his rule as one of the things they fear most as a mobilizing force for the opposition.

So this is very significant taking that off the air. Now, it doesn't mean that people can't mobilize in the way that they always have. We've seen massive mobilization in Pakistani history, but it's going to get a lot harder.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the Bush administration acknowledges they tried to talk him out of this and failed. Now they seem to be saying, the administration's new goalpost seems to be, all right, come on television, as Bhutto said, and announce you're going to stick to this election schedule and you're going to give up your uniform. How much leverage does the U.S. seem to have at this point?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, we're riding a tiger, and we're trying to tell the tiger, "Go this direction and that direction," not much leverage. In a sense, we can throw a piece of meat here or there, but that tiger is going to go whichever way it wants, and the tiger is going to pursue its own interest. I don't think we have much leverage.

We can play around with the aid. We can offer, perhaps, more economic and educational aid. We can make some of the military conditional. I think we should do that. That would be trying to influence Musharraf around the margins, but basically we're stuck with him, and he's stuck with us.

MARGARET WARNER: But what would be the effect? I mean, the U.S. did cut off aid to Pakistan once before, in the '90s, over the nuclear issue. What effect would it have if the U.S. really cut off or cut down on the aid in a serious way?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, we would lose all intelligence cooperation with Pakistan. We would lose whatever military assistance they do provide. And we would be in worse shape if they did decide to stop cooperation with us.

Of course, Pakistan would be in still worse shape. We don't want to drive Pakistan into the ground. That's one of the advantages the Pakistanis have. They know they're on the edge. And if we threaten to push them over, it hurts them, and it also hurts us.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see the U.S.-Pakistan dynamic right now?

DANIEL MARKEY: Well, I'd say we are limited to a kind of a nuclear option, so to speak, not literally, but only in the sense that we really could push Musharraf off the edge if we chose to. In other words, we could really not weaken the country necessarily, by a short-term cut-off in assistance, but weaken him in terms of what he can deliver from the United States.

In other words, because he's supported by the army, part of the reason they support him is because he can deliver assistance from the U.S. If the United States made it very clear that all assistance would stop unless Musharraf were forced out, I think we'd see a very rapid change.

But that's a nuclear option. That hurts us, as I think Steve was saying, hurts us as much as it hurts them, maybe even more in the short term. So that's something that the Bush administration is going to be very reluctant to do.

MARGARET WARNER: So very briefly, is there a path from here to there, with Musharraf essentially enjoying one-man rule, getting to, quote, "free and fair elections" by January 15th?

STEPHEN COHEN: I think -- well, I don't know about January 15th. It may be pushed a little bit further. But I think there is -- we should be working with our friends and neighbors in the region in South Asia, the Indians, the Chinese, even the Iranians, because all of us have an interest in a stable Pakistan. So there's a diplomatic option which we have not pursued at all.

And, of course, in terms of manipulating our aid package, that's possible. But I think we've had an abysmal public diplomacy program in Pakistan. That could be pumped up, as well. But I think, basically, he's in control. We're in it for the ride.

MARGARET WARNER: So it really, in the end, comes down to persuading Musharraf to hold these elections?

DANIEL MARKEY: I think that's absolutely right. And I think it's also incumbent upon Washington to try and help and make it possible for them to hold elections by January 15th. I mean, we were always going to have a hard time having elections in the current very violent climate that Pakistan is facing. And I think Washington could do something to help Pakistan in that regard.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, it may be also hard to hold free and fair elections without an independent media, but thank you both very much.

DANIEL MARKEY: That's true. Thank you.