Everyday Life Remains Calm for Non-Protesting Pakistan

Pakistan announces plans to lift its state of emergency within one month, but the government offers few details. Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, talks with NPR's Scott Simon about what the recent turmoil means for average Pakistanis.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We're going to turn now to a political scientist in Pakistan. Rasul Baksh Rais is a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, and he joins us from Islamabad. Professor Rais, thanks very much for being with us.

Professor RASUL BAKSH RAIS (Political Scientist, Lahore's University of Management Sciences): My privilege to be with you.

SIMON: How is the state of emergency affecting people who aren't out on the streets, visibly protesting?

Prof. RAIS: Every day life is largely unaffected because the businesses have continued to be in operation. The transport is running. The general life has not been paralyzed. Life is quite normal for those who are not participating in the protests.

SIMON: What is your analysis, Professor Rais, as to why the government has let Benazir Bhutto out from under house arrest and obviously empowered her to mount these protests when, as you know, so many other opposition leaders are detained and in prison?

Prof. RAIS: I think there are two views: One view is that it is regarding the deal and the political plan that Musharraf and Benazir have together, and because it is in the interest of the government to build up credibility of Benazir Bhutto as an authentic opposition leader because anybody who stands anywhere close to present regime and General Pervez Musharraf will be wiped out of the political scene. And that is the fear that has pushed her to be independent at least in the media and in public statements.

Today, she appears to be as if she is a member of the protest movements, and she is also tackling the issues at the heart of the civil society movement. So one view is that still the deal is on, and the litmus test for that would be that whether or not Benazir Bhutto supports two things: one, the restoration of the old judiciary along with the constitution, and, second, that in the future political set up of the country, General Pervez Musharraf will have no role at all. Any role by General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto supporting it would mean that the deal is still on.

SIMON: I'm still not sure that explains why the government has let her out, though. You know, when they have - when they clearly have so many other people in - under lock and key.

Prof. RAIS: Yeah. Because they want to help Bhutto build up her constituency. And if the elections are held, then she should be able to capture the majority of the seasoned, former government because she's the only leader who has been negotiating a political deal with the government. And they also hope that while being supported to return to power, she would be lenient on the question of Pervez Musharraf's staying in the power structure in some form.

SIMON: So the way you describe it, Professor, placing her under house arrest for 24 hours was almost a cynical ploy to build up her credibility as an opposition leader.

Prof. RAIS: Yes. It is cynical, but we are living in such a very tough and very difficult positions that when the deal and the negotiations and the meeting between General Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto a couple of months while taking place in Dubai, both the sides were denying it. The society in Pakistan has become quite cynical, quite skeptical about what the leaders say in public and what the leaders do behind the curtain.

SIMON: Rasul Baksh Rais who's a professor of political science at Lahore University, thank you very much.

Prof. RAIS: My pleasure.

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