U.S. Sends Negroponte to Pakistan
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The United States is getting directly involved in Pakistan's political crisis. Deputy Secretary State John Negroponte is in Islamabad today. He is expected to urge the country's leader, General Pervez Musharraf, to lift a state of emergency that he imposed early in the month.
Now on the eve of Negroponte's arrival in the Pakistani capitol, authorities lifted the house arrest of a major opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto.
NPR's Philip Reeves is following this story. And Philip, what leverage do the Americans have?
PHILIP REEVES: Well, the leverage that they have, of course, is that they put a great deal of money into Pakistan. They do so because they regard it as the frontline in the so-called war on terror. Any real threat to those funds might impact the army.
At the moment, we believe the army is broadly sticking behind Musharraf. But if there was a change in the financial situation that might lead to them changing their attitude.
Something else that would change their attitude, of course, is whether there are significant and prolonged street protests. At the moment, there are rumblings on the landscape. These protests are small but they're simmering away and they happen virtually everyday. And if that happened, the army's attitude to Musharraf would change. And remember, it's going to be likely the army that decides the fate of Pervez Musharraf in the long run.
INSKEEP: But wait a minute here, when we say the Americans can threaten to remove aid, do you have any sense that the Bush administration is actually prepared to take that step given how important Pakistan is in the war on terror?
REEVES: It's not clear. I think the U.S. is probably in a quandary actually and isn't sure what to do about Musharraf. The Pakistani political commentariat has been poring over the sort of subtle signals from Washington ahead of this trip.
A remark, for instance, by Condoleezza Rice that the U.S. will stand by the Pakistani people without mentioning Musharraf. And the recent story in the New York Times also suggesting that the U.S. is looking beyond Musharraf.
But I am not sure that the U.S. actually knows what to do here. I think they would ideally like to have another shot at the arranged marriage between Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf, the partnership. But Bhutto is now repeatedly saying it's time for Musharraf to go. She has begun talking to opposition leaders including her former rival, Nawaz Sharif, about formulating a common agenda to oppose Musharraf and to oppose emergency rule.
INSKEEP: Is she planning more marches or protests now that she's allowed to leave the house?
REEVES: Well, she has already - she wasn't long out of the house arrest when she was already holding a press conference in which she was making her position very clear which is that she wants to have free and fair elections. The opposition parties and Bhutto doubting that's going to be possible if Musharraf does as he says he intends to do which is to keep the state of emergency in place. Bhutto is saying essentially that if the people of Pakistan decide to elect new leaders and they choose her, she will lead them.
INSKEEP: Although, Philip, you have mentioned a number of times in your reporting that the great mass of Pakistani people seem to be staying out of this. Is there any sign that Bhutto or any other opposition leader can really motivate them to throw Musharraf out of office?
REEVES: Bhutto has been appealing to the student body of Pakistan to get involved. And there have been some smallish protests but overall it's still the case that the masses of Pakistan have remained disengaged in this whole political crisis, not least because they are quite cynical about the political parties including Benazir Bhutto's.
INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Islamabad, Pakistan. Thanks very much.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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