Hope in Pakistan Gives Way to Reality

Two months after the Pakistani government was installed, the euphoria has vanished. The political elite are still arguing and the people on the streets have seen little improvement in their lives or the departure of President Pervez Musharraf.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

In Pakistan, the honeymoon is over. It's been four months to the day since elections were held there. A new coalition government took office, led by the Pakistan's People's Party of the late Benazir Bhutto. Many Pakistanis saw the new government's arrival as a major step toward restoring democracy and ending military rule. But much of that optimism is gone, due large part to Pakistan's growing economic problems.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES: This is where Mohamed Awash(ph) shops for his family.

(SOUNDBITE OF GENERATOR)

REEVES: That's a generator you can hear in the background. There's yet another power outage. These happen here frequently, during every day. Looking disheveled and generally down at heel, Awash is clutching a small bag of cooking oil.

So how much do this bag of cooking oil cost you, say, six months together?

MOHAMED AWASH: (Unintelligible) 50,000.

REEVES: How much did it cost now? Or give me...

AWESH: (Unintelligible)

REEVES: So it's gone up by 30 percent.

As a low level government worker, Awash earns the equivalent of $95 a month. That feeds his mother, wife and three children. The government raised salaries recently, but not enough to cover souring food prices.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

REEVES: Awash says he's disappointed. He hoped the new government would do something to address Pakistan's economic problems. Nassim Assam(ph) and her two small children are at the checkout nearby.

NASSIM ASSAM: (Trough translator) They've done nothing. Inflation has gone up. They've done nothing.

TALAT MASOUD: They are nurturing any effective governance.

REEVES: Political analyst Talat Masoud says Pakistan's new government has yet to find its feet.

MASOUD: In fact, there are only five ministers and that too(ph) with a large number of portfolios, and they haven't really got a grip both as far as the domestic as well as the external situation is concerned.

REEVES: Schering Misuari(ph), a commentator on political affairs, says people are becoming angry.

SCHERING MISUARI: That was all reflected in the numbers that you saw coming out for this long march that was held recently.

REEVES: The long march wasn't a march at all. It was a rally by lawyers, civil society activists, and political party cadres who drove to the capitol in a giant motorcade. They demanded the immediate restoration of judges sacked last year by Musharraf. They want a genuinely independent judiciary.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

REEVES: Their wrath was mainly directed at Musharraf. Some called for him to be hanged. But the protest was really about Asif Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower and leader of the new coalition government's largest party. Zardari's so far failed to keep a promise to get the judges their jobs back. The rally drew a big crowd, comfortably into five figures. Talat Masoud says it was very significant.

MASOUD: I think that there is an extraordinary change taking place in Pakistan's civil society. And that is reflective in that demonstration. And this is an extremely positive change, and regrettably the international community failed to embrace that.

REEVES: But was it such a big deal? The lawyers have begun arguing amongst themselves. Some of them feel the protest didn't make as much impact as it might have. The rally didn't roll into Islamabad until the small hours, long after many Pakistanis had gone to bed. By the next morning the protest had fizzled out. A debate has begun over whether restoring the judiciary really matters to the multitude of Pakistanis who are grappling with raising fuel and food prices. Schering Misuari says it does.

MISUARI: If you talk to the man in the street, he will still tell you that restoration of the judiciary is a big issue for them.

REEVES: That's not the view of this man, who gives his name only as Zimrey(ph). He knows the man on the street pretty well. For years he's been selling that man bread from his street store.

ZIMREY: (Speaking foreign language)

REEVES: Politicians care about the judiciary, he says; the poor are more concerned about where they'll find their next meal.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

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