Search Is On For Pakistan's Next President Political leaders in Pakistan are looking for a new president. Pervez Musharraf stepped down Monday to avoid being impeached. The Bush administration — which saw Musharraf as an important ally — is watching the search for a replacement closely. On the streets of Pakistan's cities, though, reaction to his departure is mixed.
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Search Is On For Pakistan's Next President

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Search Is On For Pakistan's Next President

Search Is On For Pakistan's Next President

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Political leaders in Pakistan are looking for a new president today now that Pervez Musharraf has resigned. He stepped down yesterday to avoid being impeached. The search for a new president is of great interest to the United States. The Bush administration had long looked to Musharraf as a partner, though not always a dependable one, in the fight against terrorism.

With Musharraf officially out of the picture, the U.S. is reaching out to the country's civilian government. Here's State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

Mr. ROBERT WOOD (U.S. State Department): Pakistan is an important ally in the war against extremism and, you know, we look forward to working with the government to continue that effort. We want to see Pakistan redouble its efforts. We're going to be working closely with the government of Pakistan.

MONTAGNE: Robert Wood of the State Department. The people of Pakistan might have different priorities, and we've turned to NPR's Philip Reeves, who's in Islamabad, to talk about that. And Phil, is the issue of terrorism high on the agenda?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, it is in the sense that many Pakistanis are deeply concerned about the fighting that's going on between militants and their army in the Northwestern part of the country. In one tribal area, for example, Bajur(ph), 200,000 people plus have been displaced by the violence there.

And along with the battling between the militants and the army, there are, of course, civilian casualties. That causes a lot of concern here. And in fact we just heard that there's been a bomb this morning in the northwest frontier province in a small town there, and that will bring the issue of the violence in that area and the conflict between the government and militants into the forefront yet again.

MONTAGNE: Musharraf's departure wasn't a complete surprise and it's been expected for some time. So what is going on there in the government as they try to name a new president?

REEVES: Well, the two parties that lead the coalition government are meeting today and they're discussing that matter. And they're also discussing the other really crucial issue here in Islamabad. And that is whether they are going to fulfill or how they're going to fulfill their pledge to restore the judges who were sacked by Musharraf when he declared a state of emergency late last year.

That issue is a particularly controversial one, especially amongst the lawyers who took to the streets last year after Musharraf began to try to move against the chief justice of this country, and who feel very passionately that the judiciary now must be restored.

MONTAGNE: Are Pakistanis following these sort of political maneuverings in Islamabad, the capital, very closely?

REEVES: Well, the media certainly is. It's getting wall-to-wall coverage, of course. But the mood on the streets is actually rather muted. Partly, I think, because people here have more immediate worries such as, you know, runaway inflation, endless power outages. Just before Musharraf left office, the Pakistani rupee hit its lowest ever level against the U.S. dollar; fuel prices are high, and that's having a big impact on people. And that's not mentioning, of course, the problem we already discussed of Islamist militancy.

And also, I think, also the two men who are now in the center stage of the political theater, if you like, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, they've been in government here before. And those governments were far from outright successes, and people here are aware of that.

MONTAGNE: Phil, is there any sense yet who the likely candidates might be for president?

REEVES: Speculation is flying in this capital city. It's a great big rumor mill - always has been. There's talk that it might be a woman, someone perhaps from a minority. For example, someone from Pakistan's largest and poorest province, Belujistan. Others say it could be an eminent jurist.

And interesting: Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto's son, has said that he thinks it'll be someone from his party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, that leads the ruling coalition.

MONTAGNE: And of course we'll continue following this as it develops. NPR's Philip Reeves speaking to us from Islamabad. Thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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