U.S. Response to Pakistan

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The White House, which has worked closely with Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, will likely stand by him despite his declaration of emergency rule.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Hopes for a smooth transition from military rule to democracy in Pakistan have been dashed. Pakistani authorities today are rounding up opposition leaders. It's the next logical step one day after General Pervez Musharraf suspended Pakistan's Constitution and declared a state of emergency. Musharraf also replaced the chief judge and blacked out independent TV outlets. He said these moves are necessary to fight rising Islamic extremism. Musharraf has vowed to go ahead with parliamentary elections but he's giving no timeline for the vote.

NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea is following the U.S. response to events in Pakistan.

And, Don, first, a little bit of history. Musharraf came close to declaring a state of emergency in August but he decided against it because he got a late-night phone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

What signals did Washington send this time to try to dissuade Musharraf from going down this path?

DON GONYEA: Ultimately, that 2 a.m. phone call from Rice to Musharraf in August only bought the U.S. some time to try to convince him that it just wasn't in his best interest to declare a state of emergency. There have been many contacts over the past couple of months sending that same message that a state of emergency could lead to instability that would be bad for the entire region. Clearly, Musharraf has made this decision despite getting that message.

HANSEN: Let's listen to what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Department of State): There are difficult circumstances in Pakistan, but we've been very clear that extra constitutional means is not the way - it would not be the way to deal with difficult circumstances. But again, the situation is just unfolding. I think we should wait for that. But anything that takes Pakistan off the democratic path, off the path of civilian rule is a step backward and it's highly regrettable.

HANSEN: That's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking yesterday.

Don Gonyea, other than deploring what's happening, is the United States doing anything to actually register its displeasure?

GONYEA: Well, that's the really hard part. And you can hear it in not only in Secretary Rice's words but in her tone there about all the U.S. can do right now is express its displeasure strongly, publicly and through formal channels. But now that the state of emergency has been declared, it really does start to take on a life of its own.

HANSEN: The Pentagon has said that General Musharraf's declaration doesn't affect the U.S. military support of Pakistan. Why not?

GONYEA: Well, the bottom line is the U.S. needs Pakistan strategically. Pakistan borders Afghanistan, where large numbers of U.S. troops are still fighting against the Taliban. It's widely believed that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So the U.S. clearly has huge interest there. And finally, for the U.S. to simply cut off aid, analysts say, would really make an already bad situation today, horrifically worst. There would be widespread instability.

HANSEN: NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: It's a pleasure.

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