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Pakistan Prepares for Presidential Battle

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Pakistan Prepares for Presidential Battle

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Pakistan Prepares for Presidential Battle

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

You think the likes of John McCain and Hillary Clinton might have tough campaigns ahead? Consider the position of Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, this fall.

This week, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Mr. Musharraf deposed in a coup eight years ago, announced that he plans to return to the country on September 10.

Another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, is negotiating a power-sharing deal with Mr. Musharraf and says that she also intends to return to her country.

Shuja Nawaz is a Pakistani journalist and he joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. SHUJA NAWAZ (Journalist, Pakistan): Thank you.

SIMON: What does this choreographed return of famous personages in Pakistan signify about President Musharraf?

Mr. NAWAZ: Well, at first, I'm not so sure it's so choreographed because this was not what President Musharraf wanted. It all began when his power structure began unraveling with the overturning of his decision to remove the former chief justice. And he had not calculated that the Supreme Court would finally reassert its position - the same Supreme Court that he had basically appointed, including the chief justice.

SIMON: So President Musharraf is considered to be vulnerable in a way he wasn't, say, a year ago?

Mr. NAWAZ: Extremely. I think he is at, probably, the weakest point that he ever was. His popularity has plummeted. The bad news for him keeps coming from all directions. The United States has now entered the game by asking that he arrange a free and fair election. They're pressing him on Afghanistan and at home, even within his own political supporting party - the Pakistan Muslim League - there are defections.

SIMON: Now, as I understand Pakistani law, President Musharraf would have to resign as chief of the army if he is to become president again. Is that quite right?

Mr. NAWAZ: I wish it were that simple. The law - it's a bit like the (unintelligible) effect. The constitution of Pakistan, which has been changed particularly during General Musharraf's period, has allowed him to retain his uniform up to 2004. Come December 2004, he said he changed his mind and so he basically remains as president and chief of army staff according to his reckoning up to November 2007.

So technically, he could go back and be reelected by the current assemblies, but that is being challenged. And the Supreme Court, as I said, is reasserting its position, and chances are that they will not allow him to seek reelection while he is retaining his uniform.

SIMON: I guess what I'm trying to understand is if he has to resign as chief of staff of the Pakistani army to run for reelection as president of the country, does he give away the base of his political support?

Mr. NAWAZ: Absolutely because his support really rests on the course, in part of the Pakistani army. This has been Pakistan's difficulty throughout its history, that it has been ruled by the military more than half of its 60 years since independence in '47. And it has been a constant clash between the authority of the state versus the power vested in the military, which increasingly became political as the years went by.

SIMON: What could be the import for the United States in this as it tries to keep Pakistan on what it perceives to be its side in contending with terrorism?

Mr. NAWAZ: Their interest is to try and have a stable Pakistan that would not allow the forces of Islamic militancy to rise and definitely not to take power because it's a nuclear country. And it also has, not only a hot border with Afghanistan now because of the Taliban and al-Qaida, but also potentially with India. So I think that they would probably favor a civilian regime with a fairly strong prime minister, whoever it is.

SIMON: Thank you very much.

Mr. NAWAZ: Thank you.

SIMON: Shuja Nawaz, an independent Pakistani journalist, author of the forthcoming "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within."

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