Pakistan's Celebration Prompts Soul-Searching

Pakistan, a key U.S. ally, is marking the 60th anniversary of its creation. The celebrations have come in the midst of a political crisis in that country that could bring down President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

All this week, we've been hearing about Pakistan, a key U.S. ally, which is marking the 60th anniversary of its independence. The celebrations have come in the midst of a political crisis in that country - a crisis that could bring down General Pervez Musharraf.

And that's the subject of our final piece in the series filed by NPR's South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES: Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali has coined a term for what's happening in his country. He calls it the Jasmine Revolution; jasmine because this is Pakistan's national flower.

Mr. SARDAR ASIF AHMAD ALI (Former Foreign Minister, Pakistan): And it gives the best aroma at the time of dawn, early morning. So it represents hope and future for Pakistan.

REEVES: And revolution because he believes Pakistan is undergoing a major political transformation.

Asif Ahmad Ali lives here in Lahore, Pakistan's intellectual and cultural capital. He's a poet and a writer, but he's best known as Pakistan's foreign minister in the '90s during Benazir Bhutto's second term as prime minister.

Asif Ahmad Ali says his Jasmine revolution has been brought about by these people - the multitude who campaigned against Musharraf's attempt to sack the country's chief justice.

(Soundbite of protest)

REEVES: Nowhere were demonstrations larger than Lahore. In the end, the protesters won. Last month, Pakistan's supreme court defied Musharraf and reinstated the judge.

Mr. ALI: This is the most unique moment I've seen anywhere in the world happening. And that's why I've called it a revolution, because the minds of people have changed. People want democracy now.

REEVES: This week's celebrations in Pakistan and India of the 60th anniversary since independence have prompted intense soul-searching. Pakistanis and Indians set aside hostilities and appeared together for energetic television debates about the past and the future.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man: Okay. Now, let us be very clear here. What is Kashmir and who is a Kashmiri?

REEVES: Pakistan's been taking a long, hard look at itself. The picture's not pretty. Violent religious extremism is on the rise, especially in the northwest. There are daily attacks in the border tribal areas by pro-Taliban militants and an insurgency in the largest province, Balochistan.

There's feudalism, widespread poverty and illiteracy, and deep unease among the public about Pakistan's alliance with the U.S. But it's not all bad. Relations with India are markedly improved, although the dispute over Kashmir is unresolved. The economy is growing. So is a vibrant private media. And so is the sense that after the chief justice affair the judiciary is now willing to call Pakistan's ruling generals to account, which brings us back to Asif Ahmad Ali.

Mr. ALI: I don't see Musharraf surviving 2007. He's like a person who is stuck in quicksand.

REEVES: As a senior figure in Benazir Bhutto's party, he obviously has an interest in predicting Musharraf's demise, yet plenty of others share his views.

His argument goes like this. In the next two months, Musharraf will ask Pakistan's outgoing national and provincial parliaments to reelect him president while remaining army chief. The general's opponents insist this is unconstitutional. They'll take the issue to the Supreme Court. The newly emboldened court will rule against Musharraf. And, says Asif Ahmad Ali, Musharraf will have no choice but to accept the ruling and stand down.

Mr. ALI: I foresee a very clean election. It'll have to be a clean election. I see a very strong judiciary. I see a very strong parliament.

REEVES: And he says that means there'll be no more military rulers in Pakistan. It may not be as clean-cut as that. The U.S. appears to be quietly encouraging Musharraf to share power with Benazir Bhutto. Only a few days ago the general was considering imposing a state of emergency. He didn't do so and afterwards said elections would go ahead. But no one in Pakistan can be absolutely sure.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

MONTAGNE: Earlier this week, we spoke to two Pakistani novelists about the contradictions of their country. You can hear that conversation and the rest of our series about Pakistan's 60th anniversary at npr.org.

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