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To help us better understand what all these developments mean for Pakistan, we are joined by Husain Haqqani. He was Pakistan's ambassador to Washington from 2008 to 2011. He's now director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute. His latest book is "Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding." And Moeed Yusuf is the director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He just returned from a trip to Pakistan.
And we welcome you both to the program.
Ambassador Haqqani, to you first.
Prime Minister Sharif has been in office over a year. What is behind all these protests?
HUSAIN HAQQANI, Hudson Institute:
Well, what we have essentially is several characters in the Pakistani play wanting everything according to their script and not willing to compromise.
The military doesn't want the civilian government to be able to change policy, especially in relation to India. They also want General Pervez Musharraf to be released without trial for treason, which the civilian government wants.
Mr. Nawaz Sharif rules more like a monarch, giving critical positions to people close to him by family tie, and so even though he is democratically elected, not really acting like a Democrat. And then we have spoilers like Mr. Imran Khan, who believes he should be prime minister, but, except for a cultlike following, he doesn't seem to have the strength to win an election.
It's a bit like Al Gore coming 14 months after the presidential election and saying, oh, and, by the way, that presidential election was rigged. So I am going to protest in front of the White House and occupy it, occupy it forcibly.
So it sounds like a number of different forces at play.
Moeed Yusuf, the army is clearly a part of this, and yet they are not overtly leading these protests.
MOEED YUSUF, United States Institute of Peace: Mm-hmm. They are not, and I don't think they will.
This is one moment in Pakistan's history where an overt coup, nobody is really seriously contemplating that at this point. The military essentially has put the civilian government on the back foot, and they are very much in the mix. People are talking about the possibility of a coup.
I would say that when you formally ask the military, as the government did, to come in and mediate between two political rivals, you have already given them the front seat, and the soft coup has happened as we speak. And so the military is not going to go any further. They have got what they need.
So is this something, Mr. Ambassador, that's been building for a long time? Was there something that happened that…
… that changed…
In fact, there are many people, including the president of Mr. Imran Khan's party, who say that some people in the military may have given a wink and a nod to orchestrate this, which is very bad for Pakistan. It means an elected prime minister who wins an election with millions of votes can actually be made a virtually ineffective leader with a few thousand people demonstrating against it and holding a sit-in.
And I agree with Moeed that the military is unlikely to take over. It doesn't want to take over. But what it has done is, it has done a non-coup coup, meaning not appearing to take power directly, but trying to take over policy. And that is where the confrontation is really coming from.
Moeed Yusuf, where does the — where is the public in all of this. Is the public with the military? Is the public with Mr. Sharif or someone else?
It's a good question.
I spent about two weeks following this very closely, including being at the protests. And the interesting part is, there are about 70,000, 80,000 people on the streets in Islamabad. That's neither here nor there for a country of 180 million. The real issue here is that there is a lot of latent sympathy for these protests and the protesters when you talk to people in drawing rooms, on the streets, or when you listen to media.
But that's not linked to what these people are asking for, which is election rigging and a reelection. That's really built around the situation of the country, people thinking that the government hasn't delivered on governance counts, poverty, et cetera.
So all of that is being conflated now and people are rallying the crowds to say that, look, things are really bad, we need to get rid of this government. That is where the sympathy is coming from. That is why the government is on the back foot, even though there are only 70,000 people on the street.
And there is no evidence that the general public supports the protests.
I think that there are television channels that actually encourage people, incite them and say, why aren't you coming out? There are — it looks very orchestrated. It's not like the whole country has broken down and everybody has decided, we hate this government and should be removed.
If there is an election held tomorrow, I think the results will still be a mixed parliament compromising different political parties. What is happening is a classic example of intransigent political actors trying to insist that they will get through street protests and a combination of conspiracies what they could not get through an election.
So what would happen then? If you don't have change of leader, if you don't have Mr. Sharif out and someone else in, what do you have? Well…
Look, what I can tell is, Mr. Sharif is not leaving without a fight. He's not going anywhere.
What I can also tell you is people close to Imran Khan tell us that he is not going to give up on this demand for resignation. So what you are looking to — at this point is more violence perhaps, this dragging out, and the military ultimately having to come and blow the whistle and decide who they are going to back, who is going to stay, who is going to go home.
Which is what Imran Khan says he has wanted from day one. He has been talking about a third empire coming and making…
Although he says that…
Well, that is something he has made up later.
But he definitely has been talking about having the military behind him. And that is not good for Pakistani democracy. The people of Pakistan should be able to elect the government. And if the government doesn't perform well, they should be able to vote it out at the next election.
Unfortunately, they're not being allowed to do that, and that doesn't augur well either for Pakistani democracy or for stability in Pakistan.
The rest of the world is looking at this, Moeed Yusuf, and among other things, they're saying, what — how does this affect the region? And especially people in the United States are saying, how does it affect Afghanistan? And Pakistan clearly plays a big role, the Pakistani Taliban.
What is the effect on what's going on in Afghanistan, or is there an effect?
The very simple effect is that Pakistan and Pakistanis have had no chance for the past two weeks to focus on the real things Pakistan needs to worry about.
That includes the Pakistani Taliban fighting the Pakistani army. That includes the Afghan situation next door. That includes the relationship with India. That includes all the problems internally. Anything that you look at on the Pakistani television is about the political crisis, which is not moving an inch for the past two weeks.
So, where does that leave Pakistan's relations with the region and with the United States? The United States has said very little about this, we should point out.
And the fact remains that Pakistan has a deep domestic crisis. One-third of school-going-age children do not go to school. Its economy is a shambles. It depends largely on foreign assistance. Its relationship with India is something that needs to be settled.
And its future in relation to Afghanistan is also something the Pakistani government needs to pay attention to. But if, every few months, or if every time a civilian government is elected, there will be orchestrated protests, with the help of the media, as well as behind-the-scenes manipulation by the military, Pakistan will not find the stability that it needs to focus on those problems.
But just very quickly, both of you see this continuing for some time before it's resolved?
I do. I don't see anything that is going to end this very, very quickly, in a day or two. I don't see — see that happening.
And I don't see it ending in a good solution or outcome.
Well, on that sobering note, former Ambassador Husain Haqqani, Moeed Yusuf, we thank you both.
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