Pakistani Activist Imran Khan Arrested
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
An arrest in Pakistan today reflects the range of recent political history of that country. A famous athlete-turned-politician and pro-democracy activist tried to hold a protest rally. He was ceased by students from another religious party. And as soon as they released him, he was arrested. The activist is Imran Khan. He's a leading voice against the military ruler of Pakistan, Pervez Mussharaf.
NPR's Philip Reeves is following the story and joins us now from Lahore.
PHILIP REEVES: Hello.
MONTAGNE: Tell us more about Imran Khan.
REEVES: He's a very well-known voice in Pakistani politics, but he is not a very powerful party leader. His party is small, but he has drawn a great deal of his strength from his celebrity status as a cricketer. He is, of course, now retired, but he was a great cricketer and is known throughout the country for that. And he has now become a very loud voice in the chorus of voices that has been raised against General Musharraf, in particular, against emergency rule in Pakistan.
MONTAGNE: Phil, you were currently at Punjab University. It's one of the largest in Asia. Are students beginning to get involved in a protest movement against the imposition of the state of emergency?
REEVES: It has to be said the numbers out here today were not very large, although, the students involved clearly felt very strongly about Pervez Musharraf's rule and are demonstrating in violation of a ban on protest imposed when Musharraf first imposed emergency rule a 10 or so days ago.
But the numbers weren't great. And there's a lot of reasons for that. People are frightened; they are frightened of getting arrested. They're also finding it difficult to protest because the police surrounded the gates of the university, and there are also police barricades on the road to the university. That said, so far, student numbers and student involvement has been remarkably limited, given the course of events in Pakistan in recent weeks.
MONTAGNE: And Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister, she has been detained, but she's also been quite vocal and making herself available for all kinds of interviews. How much of a sense is there that she's orchestrating the situation?
REEVES: When Benazir Bhutto first announced that she was going to lead what she called a long march, a motorcade, from Lahore to Islamabad, she knew that she was very likely going to be put under house arrest and that's what's happened. So this is choreographed. She's using her telephone to contact the media to put out the point that she needs to put out, which is her opposition now to General Musharraf. And she's also aware that Musharraf is very sensitive to publicity. Musharraf's made that very clear in his press conferences. He talks about aspersions and he complains quite often about the media being irresponsible, which is how he describes it. So she's definitely making the most of the situation as an effective political leader might.
MONTAGNE: Just finally and briefly, John Negroponte, the Bush administration's number two diplomat, is due in Pakistan at the end of the week. What can he possibly accomplish at this point?
REEVES: Well, the situation has, very significantly, changed. Benazir Bhutto, yesterday, came out in public at any rate in absolute opposition to General Musharraf, saying that she now wants him to quit as president and saying that she wouldn't be prepared to work under him if she's elected prime minister. That's a big shift in the position. It's at odds with what U.S. policy has been until this point.
And Negroponte is sure to come to Pakistan and urge Musharraf to lift the state of emergency. And his other objective, I imagine, will be to try to repair the situation so that they can work again towards the possibility of a partnership between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, an alliance they were talking about building in which you have two supposed moderates — that's how Musharraf calls himself — allied against Islamic extremism, which is, of course, the biggest concern the U.S. has.
MONTAGNE: Phil, thanks very much.
REEVES: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Philip Reeves at Punjab University in Lahore, Pakistan.
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