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Pakistanis Reflect on Impact of Political Turmoil

November 23, 2007 at 6:15 PM EDT
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The Pakistani government denounced a move by the British Commonwealth suspending its membership and speculation continued over when President Gen. Pervez Musharraf will step down as army chief. Margaret Warner reports from Pakistan on public reaction to the turmoil.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the Pakistan story. Margaret Warner is there for us. And today, we hear the reactions of Pakistani citizens to the events of recent weeks.

MARGARET WARNER: President Pervez Musharraf has clamped a state of emergency on Pakistan, but for journalist Hamid Mir the show goes on. The popular talk show host, who’s Geo News Network has been yanked from the air, today produced his program, “Capital Talk,” for a live audience on the streets of the capital.

Among his guests, Imran Khan, the opposition leader and former cricket superstar recently released from a week in jail.

So why did you come all the way to do this program?

IMRAN KHAN, Pakistan Movement for Justice: To show solidarity with the media, because this is the genuine media in Pakistan, as opposed to the controlled media by the government, to show solidarity with them, and actually to get our views across to the civil society, which is desperate at the moment to fight this dictatorship.

MARGARET WARNER: The crowd that gathered for the taping in front of the Islamabad Press Club was small, but vocal. A large police force came, too, but stayed on the fringes, despite the crowd’s call for Musharraf to go.

Three weeks after Musharraf declared the state of emergency, Pakistanis have had time to reflect on its impact. At the Aabpara Market in the center of town, the immediate challenge today was uprooting the stump of a fallen 60-year-old tree.

But while the routines of daily life continue here, the artisans and traders working in the market say they’ve noticed a big drop-off in business since emergency rule was imposed.

Qaisar Waaseem says his electrical goods store is suffering, and so is Pakistan.

QAISAR WAASEEM, Store Owner: It’s a great collapse of the business.

MARGARET WARNER: And why? Why aren’t people coming to buy what you sell here?

QAISAR WAASEEM: Because people were thinking insecure. He was thinking that they are insecure in this country and they are not going to spend more money. Rather than spending, they are going to keep in reserve. And they want to keep for the black moment this money.

MARGARET WARNER: Musharraf insists his state of emergency is aimed at preventing any “black moment” from engulfing Pakistan, especially from terrorists. But under pressure at home and from abroad, he has pledged to abandon his army uniform when he takes the oath for a new five-year term as president.

But by week’s end, that still hadn’t happened. There are nagging doubts here about whether it will and whether Musharraf will have the same power if it does.

QAISAR WAASEEM: I think it is not convincing me that he can run a regime without a uniform, because he’s not a politician. He’s not a civil politician. He’s an army man. So without his uniform, how he gives orders, how he implements the policies, it is very hard not to pray [ph] for him.

Public opinion of Musharraf mixed

Novera Rasheed
I think that whatever he [Musharraf] feels, in his circumstances, he's right. Whatever he's doing, he's quite right, because he can see the things, he can see the things through that thing, which we don't know.

MARGARET WARNER: There are still Pakistanis who admire the president, and we found some of them today at an upscale bakery. Four friends, all primary schoolteachers, were choosing a birthday cake, and Novera Rasheed expressed her confidence in the president's recent moves.

NOVERA RASHEED, Teacher: I think that whatever he feels, in his circumstances, he's right. Whatever he's doing, he's quite right, because he can see the things, he can see the things through that thing, which we don't know. Being the common people, we cannot think the way he thinks. He knows the things, so whatever he's doing, he's right.

MARGARET WARNER: Her colleague, Diya Mustafa, also supports Musharraf, but she's worried about what will happen if he abandons his uniform.

DIYA MUSTAFA, Teacher: I'm with him. I think, if he's a president, he needs to be powerful, and Pakistan is at the point where it needs a very powerful president. If he's there without uniform, I don't think he's going to -- you know, he could control things like he used to.

MARGARET WARNER: But opinion at the bakery didn't all go Musharraf's way. College lecturer Yawar Abass approached us to express his anger over emergency rule and over the failure of millions of his fellow citizens to speak out against it.

YAWAR ABASS, University Lecturer: We have no courage to stand up, to speak out, that whatever is happening is completely wrong. And I am not afraid. I am saying it again, whatever is happening, whatever has happened, in last three weeks especially, it is completely wrong.

MARGARET WARNER: The opposition politicians and activists who gathered for today's TV show taping did express that sentiment. And there was criticism also of the United States for failing to press Musharraf hard enough for full restoration of the constitution and every institution, including an independent judiciary.

IMRAN KHAN: The biggest crime committed by him is against the Supreme Court, and we want the Bush administration to stand with the Supreme Court. And forget about everything else. Once the Supreme Court is restored, they will restore the rights of the people of this country.

MARGARET WARNER: Is it possible that to have free, fair and credible elections under a state of emergency?

IMRAN KHAN: It's a joke. It's contradiction in terms.

MARGARET WARNER: That issue seemed far from the concerns of members of the Lahore polo club when we visited last weekend. Founded by the British in 1886, it occupies a lush, 64-acre site in Pakistan's cultural capital. It's a place where members of Pakistan's moneyed elite come to relax and play, and many of them, as retired military, have known Pervez Musharraf personally.

Businessman and retired Major Jared Mawaz, watching his 12-year-old grandson play polo, expressed bewilderment about what he considers Musharraf's erratic behavior of late and concern that it is undermining Musharraf's standing among his countrymen.

JARED MAWAZ, Businessman: I see him on the television. My friends see him on the television. We don't see him around anymore. But the way he looks, the way he -- you know, the expression that he's giving is like he's becoming Mussolini or Hitler or something, the way we can see that. And I'll come again, I'll say again: This is the best man we have. I wish somebody can put sense into his head.

MARGARET WARNER: And with that, the polo players carried on, a scene of serenity in a nation that is roiling with debate and doubt about how the current political drama will be resolved.

Concessions on emergency rule

Margaret Warner
Senior Correspondent
The Supreme Court today cleared the way for him to be certified, re-elected as president. That is expected to happen in a couple of days. ... And then his aides promise he will doff his uniform and take the oath of office as a civilian president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I talked with Margaret earlier today, after she prepared that report.

Margaret, hello. You've been there a week now. The British Commonwealth has suspended Pakistan as a member. Elections are coming in early January. What is President Musharraf's standing with the Pakistani people today?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, when we got here a week ago, the big question in Washington and here was whether he could even ride out the outrage that had greeted his imposition of emergency rule. I have to say that, after a week, a week of us being here, it appears as if, at least in the short- to medium-term, he very much has.

The Supreme Court today cleared the way for him to be certified, re-elected as president. That is expected to happen in a couple of days, two or three days. And then his aides promise he will doff his uniform and take the oath of office as a civilian president.

In the meantime, though, he has amended the constitution further to make sure that he would retain the sole power to lift emergency rule and also that whatever he did under emergency rule would not be subject to review by the courts.

Then, in response to some of this pressure, especially from abroad, he has taken steps to lift some, but not all of the elements of emergency rule. So, for example, he's freed thousands of the activists that were put in jail, but not all of them. Most of the private media channels are back up on the air, but only after signing a code of conduct and, in some cases, canceling the shows of particularly offensive hosts, in the eyes of the government.

Most tellingly, he has done nothing to restore any judges who had refused to take a new oath under this provisional constitution that he imposed on November 3rd.

Perhaps best for him is the fact that -- we're just looking down Constitution Avenue here. The president's house is behind me. There are not thousands of demonstrators out in the streets. Now, this street is barricaded off with barbed wire, but they are not here. And so, in the eyes of many observers and people who know the military well, they say the military has no incentive right now to move against him.

Assessing the U.S. role

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, your piece mentioned criticism of the U.S. for being too soft on Musharraf. With so much at stake, Pakistan's role in fighting the extremists, the fact that they have nuclear weapons, how do the people there see the U.S. role in all this?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, the perception, Judy, has been for a long time here -- and probably with good reason -- that the United States has a lot of influence over what goes on here. And it was no secret that the U.S. belatedly recognized that Musharraf had damaged his standing with the public here when he tried to fire the chief justice the first time in the spring, that the U.S. had moved to try to facilitate a power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, in which she would come back and run for prime minister again. He could stay on as president, and give a kind of gloss of a democratic, civilian government to his continued rule.

And in the eyes of the United States, that was desirable, because they do regard him as fighting against terrorists, Islamic terrorists, both on the border with Afghanistan and also in the northern part of Pakistan.

But the public is not crazy about this. They see the U.S. as trying to prop up Musharraf.

Now, this week has been a bit of a roller coaster, because when John Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state came, over the weekend, he did have some very tough words. You know, he said, "I told President Musharraf he has to lift the state of emergency and free those in prison and free the restrictions on the media."

I went to a student rally -- I think it was Monday or Tuesday -- and several students spoke approvingly of that and came up to me and asked, "Was he really that tough?"

But then, at midweek, President Bush gave an interview in which he said something about how he thought that Musharraf really did believe in democracy. That was widely noted here. And by week's end, as you saw in the piece, activists were questioning why the White House was not insisting that Musharraf lift all aspects of emergency rule, particularly the number-one source of accountability, the judiciary.

So I would say that the United States' role by week's end is still seen as the U.S. trying to prop Musharraf up. And I have to say, in talking to Musharraf aides, it's quite clear that they don't feel any huge pressure from Washington, including they don't fear the suspension of the millions and millions of dollars in military aid, if, in fact, all Musharraf does before the elections is give half a loaf.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Margaret, thank you very much for your reporting all this week from Islamabad.