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Pakistan Faces Political Challenges After Musharraf’s Exit

August 18, 2008 at 6:10 PM EDT
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Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf resigned Monday in the face of an impeachment bid. Analysts examine the end of the Musharraf era and the future for U.S. ties to the country.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The president of Pakistan resigns. We start with a report narrated by Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: An honor guard for the very last time. Pervez Musharraf wanted to leave office with dignity. He thanked his presidential staff one by one.

In a television address, he spent an hour praising himself and railing against his political enemies. But then this…

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, President of Pakistan (through translator): For the sake of the nation and the country today, I have decided to resign from my post. My resignation will reach the speaker of the national assembly today. I don’t want anything from anybody. I leave my future in the hands of the nation and the people. Let them be the judge, and let them do justice.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The men who brought him down met to talk strategy. Nawaz Sharif was overthrown and imprisoned by Mr. Musharraf. Asif Zardari blames him for the murder of his wife, Benazir Bhutto.

In the streets, they were celebrating. Over the last year or so, Mr. Musharraf made many enemies, not just the opposition political parties, who were voted in, in February, but also the judiciary and lawyers after he sacked judges bringing cases against him.

PAKISTANI CITIZEN (through translator): Thank God for this. We’re very happy today. He has decided — and how can I say how happy I am? It’s a great thing.

LINDSEY HILSUM: It’s a far cry from 1999, when General Musharraf, as he was then, overthrew the corrupt regime of Nawaz Sharif and promised to bring honesty and order. After 9/11, he threw in his lot with President Bush, announcing himself an ally in the war on terror.

He supported the war in Afghanistan, providing backup for the Americans in exchange for $11 billion of military aid.

Last year, militant Islamists seized the Red Mosque in Islamabad, so President Musharraf sent in the army to crush them, angering extremists and human rights campaigners alike.

Then, lawyers representing secular middle-class forces turned against him. He declared a state of emergency just to stay in power.

February’s election was a rout. The party here created to back him was defeated by the same, old political forces that he tried to neutralize nine years earlier.

At the end of his speech today, he said goodbye.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (through translator): May God protect Pakistan. May God protect you all. Long live Pakistan forever.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner takes the story from there.

'The end of the road'

Steve Coll
New Yorker Magazine
[Musharraf] was finely persuaded by those few around him who he was prepared to listen to [...] that he would do more damage to the cause that he had served and to his own legacy if he stuck it out.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on all this, we turn to Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think-tank. He writes for the New Yorker magazine, as well, and has reported extensively from South Asia.

And Shuja Nawaz, a former Pakistani journalist and International Development Agency official, he's the author of a recent book about the Pakistani army called "Crossed Swords."

Welcome back to you both.

So, Steve, it was always said that Pervez Musharraf was an army commander at heart. Whatever situation he was in, he'd fight his way out. He didn't try this time. Why?

STEVE COLL, New Yorker Magazine: Well, I think he finally realized that he had reached the end of the road. In his speech, he referred to the very questions you asked, which was, he said this is not a time for bravado.

And I think he was finely persuaded by those few around him who he was prepared to listen to that he had -- that he would do more damage to the cause that he had served and to his own legacy if he stuck it out.

Also, I think the army and the Americans, his two most important partners, reached a state of exhaustion with his rule and, confronted by the demands for his removal, stood by passively as it finally occurred.

MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that?

SHUJA NAWAZ, Former Pakistani Journalist: I think he was isolated. He got very poor information on what was going on.

And once he got the deal that he was looking for, which was a safe exit, then he had to fold, because he had no legal grounds to challenge the impeachment charges against him.

By his own admission, he had said that he took an extra-constitutional step in November, when, as army chief, he imposed a state of emergency.

MARGARET WARNER: So did he get some kind of what he'd been bargaining for, some kind of immunity from prosecution?

SHUJA NAWAZ: This is my understanding, based on conversations with people in Pakistan, that he did get a safe exit and that he's likely...

MARGARET WARNER: To where?

SHUJA NAWAZ: ... to leave the country and that a possible immediate destination may be Dubai, and then eventually may be New Mexico in the United States. But this is unconfirmed.

MARGARET WARNER: New Mexico? What about this coalition government, four-month-old coalition government now? Now that it doesn't have Musharraf to kick around anymore, to unite it, is it ready and equipped to deal with Pakistan's problems?

STEVE COLL: Not at all clear. This whole exercise has been very backward-looking in character, in a lot of respects. The end of the Musharraf era really dates back to last year when he left the army, and this exercise has taken many months to unfold.

Meanwhile, inflation is spiking in the country. Islamist militants are gathering strength in the west of the country. And the government has missed an opportunity to take an initiative in its initial months.

Now, with Musharraf out of the way and the prospect of a more sustainable constitutional arrangement ahead, a more sustainable partnership with the army, they do have an opportunity to lead. But it's not at all clear that they have the coherence within their coalition or the individuals at the top of government who can achieve those goals.

Extremism, economic challenges

Shuja Nawaz
Author/Journalist
The economy is really the wild card in all of this. It's completely out of control, and there doesn't seem to be a credible policy to tackle those problems.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think there's any coherence to this coalition? And do you think the individuals at the top of each one are ready to step up to this?

SHUJA NAWAZ: I think Musharraf was the political glue holding the coalition together, and this will be a huge challenge for them now.

But if they are going to survive, they will need not only to keep the current coalition intact, but perhaps broaden it and maybe even bring in people from the Pakistan Muslim League of the Q Group, which was Musharraf's party, so that they'd have a broad enough base to have a truly national government.

With that approach, they might succeed in staying afloat for another couple of years. As Steve said, the economy is really the wild card in all of this. It's completely out of control, and there doesn't seem to be a credible policy to tackle those problems.

MARGARET WARNER: Of course, what the United States is most concerned about -- though the two are related -- is what Pakistan is doing in its struggle against Islamic extremism. And there's been plenty of criticism of its performance even under Musharraf.

Is this going to make a difference? Is this going to make the effort any more sustained or any more effective, is really the question?

STEVE COLL: Well, that's up to these same civilian leaders. I mean, what Pakistan faces is an insurgency, an indigenous insurgency within its own borders.

To defeat that insurgency, it will require a partnership between the security forces and the civilian administration, and a comprehensive strategy that includes all of the instruments of the Pakistani government.

The only way such a partnership can be constructed is between the elected democratic leaders, who now have some of their path cleared, and the military leaders.

Whether they can now take advantage of the space that Musharraf has left for them to form such a strategy is the most important country the question faces. I don't know whether they can.

MARGARET WARNER: The two leaders of these parties are, of course, Benazir Bhutto's widower, Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister. There's no love lost between them, is there?

STEVE COLL: Well, those two parties have been competitors and rivals for many years. And those two individuals have no record of working closely together. And their constituencies are suspicious of one another, as well.

Fighting insurgencies

Steve Coll
New Yorker Magazine
A comprehensive national strategy that shares a view of the threat and then brings what capacity the government has in total to that threat is a project that awaits, at best.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you think, Shuja Nawaz, the difference it's going to make? Or will it make any difference in the way Pakistan approaches fighting terrorism?

For instance -- and the Americans finally called out Pakistan on this last month -- there's still the closeness that the intelligence agencies have still with the Taliban, all protests to the country, apparently.

SHUJA NAWAZ: Well, there are actually two separate insurgencies that they're fighting. One is the Afghan Taliban, to which the government of Pakistan and all its agencies, including the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, have a slightly different approach, and the internal insurgency, which Steve was referring to, which is the one that scares them most, because that's not only in the border area, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, but it's now in the settled area of the North-West Frontier province.

And that's the part that really scares them. So they really need a very different approach to both those.

On the Afghan Taliban, they need much more support from the U.S. side and the coalition side on the Afghan side of the border. And they will then have to stop the ambivalence in the relationship with the tribes on the border that have...

MARGARET WARNER: Meaning what?

SHUJA NAWAZ: ... that have given succor and that have given sanctuary to their fellow tribesmen who go and fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

MARGARET WARNER: But do either of you see the outlines of a policy that's going to be any more effective?

STEVE COLL: Well, I don't think that the army and the civilian leaders have sat down to construct such a policy. What such a policy would be is more or less available. And the Americans have offered their ideas. NATO, the army has been working on its side.

But a comprehensive national strategy that shares a view of the threat and then brings what capacity the government has in total to that threat is a project that awaits, at best.

Future of U.S.-Pakistan ties

Shuja Nawaz
Author/Journalist
The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is really heading down south now. It's not doing too well.

MARGARET WARNER: What is this going to mean for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship? What kind of a change, if any?

SHUJA NAWAZ: Well, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is really heading down south now. It's not doing too well, particularly after this recent accusation about the relationship between the ISI and Mullah Haqqani, who is operating with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

So there needs to be some very firm steps that need to be taken on both sides to rebuild that confidence. And it's important for them to share information and to level with each other on what the situation is on the ground. And the U.S. needs to come in with a very heavy dose of economic assistance in FATA so that it can empower the people of that region.

MARGARET WARNER: A final brief word from both of you, Musharraf's lasting legacy for Pakistan?

STEVE COLL: Oh, unfortunately, much less than it might have been. He's left a constitutional system that is no stronger than it was when he came in and an economy that is going in the wrong direction in an unfinished war that is growing worse.

So I'm afraid the promise that he offered when he came to power has been largely eroded.

SHUJA NAWAZ: As he put it in his own book, "In the Line of Fire," whenever you have a prolonged military dictatorship, it ends up stunting the systems, the institutional systems, and democracy within a country. And for once, I think he was right.

MARGARET WARNER: So he lived out his own prediction?

SHUJA NAWAZ: Yes, it's history repeating itself.

MARGARET WARNER: Shuja Nawaz, Steve Coll, thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On our Web site, you can watch the NewsHour's coverage of President Musharraf's political career, including two Newsmaker interviews with him. Visit us at PBS.org. Just scroll down to Online NewsHour Reports.