Opposition Parties Join over Dislike for Musharraf
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A meeting between opposition leaders in Pakistan yesterday, turned into another humiliation for President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf was overwhelmingly defeated, or his party was, in this week's parliamentary elections. And now his rivals have agreed to join forces to form a new government. They met yesterday and they decided their ideological differences are small compared to what their share: a deep dislike for Musharraf.
Reporter Graham Usher was at their joint press conference in Islamabad and he's on the line. What does this mean for Pervez Musharraf when his opponents are working together?
Mr. GRAHAM USHER (Reporter): Well, I think it means that the day of his demise has come closer. Musharraf was hoping, I think, as well as the American administration, there would not be a coalition government between the Pakistan People's Party of the late Benazir Bhutto, and the Muslim league of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
And the condition, in fact, for Nawaz Sharif's Muslim league joining the government, at least in principle, is the restoration of the judiciary. And most people understand that to mean that the next government will reinstate those judges that President Musharraf purged, in fact, last year during a six-week period of emergency rule.
INSKEEP: And let's talk about what that might mean for Pervez Musharraf because you have these judges who among other things might revisit whether Musharraf should even be legally president of Pakistan. Is that right?
Mr. USHER: That's absolutely correct. The reason they were purged was because they were about to rule on the constitutionality of Musharraf's presidential election in October. And the view was that the majority of the judges had decided that that election was illegal and unconstitutional according to the Pakistan constitution and that Musharraf would have to stand down.
He preempted that by sacking the judges and essentially installing his own hand-picked judiciary, which is not recognized by the vast majority of judges and lawyers throughout Pakistan, who have since been on strike. He has made it clear, Musharraf, that if there is any attempt to reinstate the judges, he will oppose this. Now what that could mean is that he could use his powers as president to dissolve the Parliament.
In other words, dissolve the newly elected Parliament that has just visited such a defeat on his parties. That would lead, in the very least, to a political and constitutional crisis because there would be mass protests on the street. But it could also lead to Musharraf's ousting, because most independent analysts here believe that the two pillars of Musharraf's support for the last nine years - the Pakistani army and the United States of America - simply could not back the president were he to do that.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about the United States of America. If Musharraf is shoved out of the way, is any replacement or any new power in Pakistan likely to be cooperating with the United States in say the battle against al-Qaida?
Mr. USHER: Well, the views of the mainstream political parties is that they do see the war against al-Qaida as Pakistan's war, but they do have differences with the American approach. In particular, they have the difference with the emphasis on military action.
All of the political parties, whether we're talking about the Pakistan's People's Party or the Muslim League of Narwaz Sharif, are absolutely opposed to any incursion by American soldiers from Afghanistan into Pakistan in pursuit of al-Qaida suspects. They are also very in favor, and this includes the Pakistan's People Parties, of negotiation to resolve the conflict with the Taliban - both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.
Although they accept that military action should be taken against al-Qaida and foreign fighters, they say that that action has to be by the Pakistani army within the territory of Pakistan, and that the military approach toward the Taliban that has been used, off and on for the last two years in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan, has proved an unmitigated disaster. It has only strengthened the Pakistan Taliban and it has increased the level of violence in Pakistan to almost Iraq-like proportion. It is deeply unpopular, no political party can possibly advocate it, and none did in the election, including the Pakistan People's Party.
INSKEEP: Graham Usher is a reporter in Pakistan. Thanks very much.
Mr. USHER: Thank you.
INSKEEP: So U.S. allies weaken in Pakistan, but this may give the United States new options in its war against extremists. And you can read an analysis at npr.org.