Court Ruling May Not Be Last Word on Musharraf
JAMES HATTORI, host:
You can't argue with that. The result is result.
And yet things are not quite that simple in Pakistan today. President Pervez Musharraf was reelected yesterday by a margin of 671 votes to eight but most of the opposition boycotted the election. And General Musharraf is not out of the woods yet. Pakistan Supreme Court is still deliberating whether his candidacy is legal. The court could decide to annul yesterday's vote.
NPR's Philip Reeves is in Islamabad.
Philip, what are the Pakistani citizens saying? How do they view the legitimacy of yesterday's election?
PHILIP REEVES: Well, I took a stroll around marketplace in Islamabad talking to people after it had happened and they seemed indifference. They seemed cynical, they seemed resigned. Of course it was an indirect election by the national parliament and the provincial assembly so they weren't directly involved. And everybody knew beforehand, anyway, the Musharraf had the votes. But I got the impression that people there saw this as part of a complex process in which Musharraf, a military ruler, is using his power to hold on to office in a manner that's got nothing to do with democracy.
HATTORI: What are the arguments before Pakistan Supreme Court about whether to permit Musharraf's electoral victory?
REEVES: Well, these (unintelligible) whether it was legal for Musharraf to run for the presidency as an army officer, and whether he's violating a law that says government servants must wait for two years after leaving their post before seeking elective office, and also whether the election commission, which is pro-Musharraf, could change the rules at the last minute exempting him from disqualification.
HATTORI: So if the court was to invalidate yesterday's vote, what would happen? What would be the consequence?
REEVES: Well, actually the truth is nobody knows for sure, technically the court could disqualify Musharraf and order that he can't be sworn in. But in reality though it would be difficult for the court to overturn the election, I think. It's not at all clear I my opinion that Musharraf would accept it's ruling if it did that. He's already declared victory and he's held celebrations after results came in yesterday. He was asked about whether he would accept the rooting against him by the court and he was non-committal.
HATTORI: Any signs over the past 24 hours that Musharraf intends to keep his promise about giving up his post of army chief?
REEVES: He said repeatedly that he will quit his army chief and it is widely expected that he will do so if the Supreme Court decision goes his way that means the country will then be run by a troika; a president, prime minister and army chief of staff. And I think it's significant that he has already named his successor as army chief, choosing a close ally, a trusted friend and a former head of Pakistan's intelligence services.
HATTORI: It appears likely the Musharraf will form an alliance with exiled Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto after the upcoming parliamentary elections. The United States has been encouraging Musharraf and Bhutto to work together, why is that?
REEVES: The primarily concern of the U.S. in Pakistan is not democracy it's security. The war on Islamist militants are attacking their Karzai government in Afghanistan and NATO forces there too, as the destabilizing Pakistan increasingly and also the larger, longer effort to root out al-Qaida. Now the U.S. has worked closely with Musharraf over the years, it regards him as a vital ally but it's also realized that to survive politically Musharraf must get out of uniform and share power. Bhutto seen as pro-Western - pro-American and the U.S. is hoping to see the two of them sort of form a partnership as moderates committed to fighting religious extremisms. That's the way it's perceived anyway.
HATTORI: The primary U.S. interest in Pakistan is the elimination of Islamic extremism in northwest Pakistan along the Afghan border but al-Qaida may be regrouping in North Waziristan, a pro-Taliban stronghold in that region. How was the U.S. trying to influence events there in its favor?
REEVES: Situation there is pretty chaotic, by the way. I mean there's this disagreement over what strategy to follow. But there does seem to be a broad pattern emerging which is a combination of putting hundreds of millions of dollars into development: political and economic, and also pursuing dialogue, and also a certain amount of use of force but it's not clear what degree of force. The Pakistani army's been on the daily attack, several hundred soldiers are being held hostage and had been held hostage in Waziristan for weeks. Their question is to whether the Pakistani army has stomach for this fight. Now the U.S. is offering support, advice, training, and of course it's putting a lot of money into this operation.
HATTORI: NPR's Philip Reeves in Islamabad where Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf awaits the Supreme Court ruling on his reelection.
Thank you, Philip.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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