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Political Pressure Builds on Musharraf over Emergency Rule

November 16, 2007 at 1:03 PM EST
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U.S. envoy John Negroponte traveled to Pakistan Friday carrying a renewed call for President Pervez Musharraf to end emergency rule. The move comes after opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's release from house arrest. Margaret Warner reports from Pakistan, where she spoke to Bhutto in her first interview since her detention began.
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RAY SUAREZ: Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf faced new pressure from the U.S. today when, but he held to his chosen course. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was expected to tell Musharraf tomorrow to quit his army post and end the state of emergency.

Despite that, Musharraf swore in a loyalist interim government to oversee January elections. And on Pakistani TV, he defended his actions.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, President of Pakistan (through translator): We all ought to be proud of the path toward democracy. I take pride in the fact that, being a man in uniform, I have actually introduced the essence of democracy in Pakistan, whether anyone believes it or not.

RAY SUAREZ: Musharraf did release opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and others on the eve of Negroponte’s visit.

Margaret Warner is in Pakistan, where she’ll report over the next week. Earlier today, before Negroponte arrived, she spoke with Benazir Bhutto.

MARGARET WARNER: It had been nearly 12 hours since Benazir Bhutto’s house arrest had been lifted, but it still wasn’t easy to get in to see her. Armed security forces blocked all the streets to the house. And inside the first barricades, it was still a sea of barbed wire, submachine guns, and meticulous searches.

And when a newly defiant Bhutto later emerged for the first time for a press conference with mostly Pakistani reporters, she spoke to them from behind barbed wire. Minutes before that, we had concluded our conversation, her first on-camera interview since detention began.

Benazir Bhutto, thanks for being with us, or at least thanks for having us here.

BENAZIR BHUTTO, Former Pakistani Prime Minister: It’s very nice to welcome you here.

Musharraf makes concessions

Benazir Bhutto
Former Prime Minister of Pakistan
I've spent my time under house arrest contacting other political leaders, seeking with them a view as to whether they could work with Musharraf, and they all say no.

MARGARET WARNER: So President Musharraf has allowed the detention order to be lifted early against you. Some of the TV stations, the private TV stations, are now on the air. Do you sense a change of heart at all?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, it's true that some steps have been taken, but not enough. There are still thousands of protestors behind bars, so it's not enough to release the well-known names. It's important to release every single political worker arrested and to permit our party a level playing field, where we can campaign, we can go door to door, we can meet the people.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is coming here, about to arrive. He's going to have, from what we understand, a very tough message for Musharraf about what he has to do. But the message from American officials to you is also they are encouraging you to maintain the option of a political accommodation with him.

In the last few days, you've been pretty unequivocal that that's off the table. Is it still off the table?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Yes, it's off the table. But I would say the important message that Mr. Negroponte brings is the message to General Musharraf. General Musharraf appears to me presently to be the obstacle to the democratization of Pakistan.

I'm unsure whether a message will be given to me to get back on track with General Musharraf, but I would like to say that I've spent 18 months talking to General Musharraf. And at the last minute, he dumped the road map to democracy and went back to military dictatorship. And I ask myself, does he simply want to engage me in talks, which will again lead nowhere?

MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying, absolutely not under any circumstances?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: That's what I'm saying, because I believe that General Musharraf's promises have always been too vague, too generalized, too little, too late, raising hopes, dashing them, raising hopes, dashing them.

And now the situation in Pakistan is critical. It is imploding from within. I think the important thing for Mr. Negroponte to do is to discuss an exit strategy with General Musharraf.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean an exit from being president, as well as army chief of staff?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: That's right, an exit strategy for an orderly transfer of power. The Pakistan Peoples Party and I are the largest political party in the country. I've spent my time under house arrest contacting other political leaders, seeking with them a view as to whether they could work with Musharraf, and they all say no.

MARGARET WARNER: So are there absolutely no back-channel talks going on between your camp and President Musharraf's?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: None at all.

MARGARET WARNER: Could you still envision, under some circumstances, a future government in which you and he would both play a role?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: No, I cannot envision that. General Musharraf has arrested my workers. He's refused to allow us to campaign. He has shown a huge tilt in favor of the ruling party. He's taken none of the steps that were necessary for the democratization of Pakistan. So I feel engaging with General Musharraf is just to set myself up for failure again.

Using public pressure

Benazir Bhutto
Former Prime Minister of Pakistan
I believe there should be an interim government of national consensus established. The interim government would hold fair, free and impartial elections, which are scheduled for January 9th.

MARGARET WARNER: So what is your scenario? By what scenario would he actually leave office?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: I believe there should be an interim government of national consensus established. The interim government would hold fair, free and impartial elections, which are scheduled for January 9th, and hand power over to the elected representatives of the people.

MARGARET WARNER: But I don't understand. As a practical matter, if President Musharraf doesn't want to give up power, by what scenario are you going to bring about him giving up power?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Through the use of public power, through the use of public power impacting on the military and on the international community. We have shown that people don't want General Musharraf.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, if General Musharraf were to not take your advice and the military were not to step in, but he frees a few more activists, he takes off his uniform as he's promised to do by the end of the month, but he keeps emergency rule on and goes toward these elections January 9th -- which is what he's saying now he's going to do -- will the PPP participate in those elections?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: That looks unlikely. While we haven't ruled out taking part in the elections, right now the opposition believes that those elections will not be transparent, and there is little purpose participating in them.

Seeking a peaceful transition

Benazir Bhutto
Former Prime Minister of Pakistan
So we are caught really between the frying pan and the fire. And we've got to take a risk. And the risk we're taking is to mount public pressure, to end martial law, and return Pakistan to its rightful masters.

MARGARET WARNER: You've spent the better part of this year, you and people around you, negotiating with President Musharraf, seeking a political accommodation that could move this country to civilian rule. In retrospect, do you regret it?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Not at all. I don't regret it. I don't regret it at all, because I know in my conscience that I did my best to seek a peaceful, political transition, to avoid the very mess that we are in now.

I fear that if General Musharraf clings onto power, there could be chaos, there could be anarchy. And a peaceful, orderly transition is what Pakistan needs. Pakistan needs healing, and General Musharraf has to decide.

He's not a bad man. He's not an unreasonable man. I've met him. I've talked to him. So he must think of Pakistan now. And if it's in Pakistan's best interest, he must quit. But there needs to be a post-Musharraf order worked out.

MARGARET WARNER: And if he doesn't?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, if he doesn't, then I'm afraid that the instability will continue, and my party and I will have the choice that either we take part in the protests and carry the risk of instability or we withdraw. And if we withdraw, do we create a vacuum that the extremists and their supporters then capture?

So we are caught really between the frying pan and the fire. And we've got to take a risk. And the risk we're taking is to mount public pressure, to end martial law, and return Pakistan to its rightful masters, who are the people of this great nation.

MARGARET WARNER: And, finally, do you think that the United States has it in its power now to persuade General Musharraf of this?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: It's a judgment call for the United States to make. There's a balance sheet to be drawn up. But I believe, yes, if the United States of America weighed in, General Musharraf would certainly give careful consideration to their advice.

MARGARET WARNER: Benazir Bhutto, thank you so much.

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Thank you, Margaret.

Negroponte's mission in Pakistan

Margaret Warner
NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
She has been, I'm told, privately been equally tough with U.S. officials in the last 36 hours. Nonetheless, they still think there's a little crack in the door, and they plan to keep pushing on her.

RAY SUAREZ: And Margaret Warner joins us now from Lahore, Pakistan.

Margaret, though the official house arrest has been lifted, can Benazir Bhutto travel freely in the country? Can she speak publicly?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Ray, she is at liberty now to at least leave that house. She was planning to go to Islamabad late today. But in terms of being able to actually travel and address large crowds, no, the state of emergency still forbids large rallies and demonstrations. So she cannot bring out her people into the street. And she is also mindful, as the government is, as well, of the dangers inherent in that.

RAY SUAREZ: Just in the last several hours, American envoy John Negroponte arrived in Pakistan. How is the Negroponte mission complicated by Benazir Bhutto's current posture?

MARGARET WARNER: It complicates it greatly, Ray. Negroponte's plan was to come to Pakistan and to essentially knock Musharraf and Bhutto's heads together and say, "Get back on track. Start negotiating again to a transition," a peaceful transition to civilian rule, in which they would share power.

If she is really as adamant as she sounded in this interview that the door is now closed completely, then it really almost doesn't matter what Negroponte can persuade Musharraf to do, if he can, you know, lift the state of emergency, take off his uniform and so forth, if there is not a willing partner anymore in Benazir Bhutto.

She has been, I'm told, privately been equally tough with U.S. officials in the last 36 hours. Nonetheless, they still think there's a little crack in the door, and they plan to keep pushing on her.

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret Warner joining us from Lahore in Pakistan. Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Ray.