Musharraf and Washington Face Pressure, Questions In the wake of last week's parliamentary election in which his party was soundly defeated, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf faces growing pressure to resign. That pressure is also touching Washington, which has hoped to keep Musharraf in place as a key ally in the war on terrorism.
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Musharraf and Washington Face Pressure, Questions

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Musharraf and Washington Face Pressure, Questions

Musharraf and Washington Face Pressure, Questions

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In Pakistan there is no question. The party of President Pervez Musharraf was humiliated in this month's elections. Pressure is growing on Musharraf to quit and on Washington to dump him and find new allies in the war on terror. But the question remains, will Musharraf really step aside?

NPR's South Asia correspondent, Philip Reeves, reports.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

Unidentified Group: Go Musharraf go. Go Musharraf go. Go Musharraf go. Go Musharraf go.

PHILIP REEVES: This cry has been ringing in the ears of President Pervez Musharraf for almost a year. It began slowly and hesitantly last spring when crowds of lawyers began to appear on the streets. They were protesting Musharraf's suspension oft the country's most senior judge, the chief justice who he later sacked. Now, the "go Musharraf go" chants have reached full volume.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

Unidentified Group: Go Musharraf go. Go Musharraf go. Go Musharraf go.

Mr. TAREK FATIMI (Former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S.): The problem arises from the erosion in his moral standing and credibility.

REEVES: Tarek Fatimi is a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington turned political commentator. He thinks the U.S. has supported Musharraf for too long. The time has come, he says, to switch its attention to Pakistan's new leadership. Fatimi believes the election results were so damaging to Musharraf's credibility that the general will have to go soon.

Mr. FATIMI: The whole constellation of the stars that are appearing on the firmament would indicate that his continued stay on the political stage of Pakistan for more than a few weeks is unlikely…

REEVES: But Fatimi admits it's impossible to be certain. Nothing ever is in the complex world of Pakistani politics. The spotlight is now on the election winners. The Pakistan Peoples Party led by Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Zardari, and the Muslim League faction of Nawaz Sharif. They're forging a coalition along with smaller parties.

For now, they're buddies caught up in the intoxicating excitement of cutting Pakistan's unpopular president down to size and ushering in parliamentary democracy. But the parties have a long history of squabbling and outright enmity. Musharraf knows this and may be biding his time. His spokesman, Major General Rashid Qureshi, says Musharraf certainly has no plans of going anywhere.

Major General RASHID QURESHI (General Pervez Musharraf's Spokesman): Absolutely no intentions. He doesn't have to leave. He - nobody's asking him to leave except one person…

REEVES: That one person is Nawaz Sharif. Sharif was prime minister before Musharraf threw him out in a coup in 1999 after Sharif tried to dump him as army chief. The two have been arch enemies ever since. Sharif has been calling loudly for Musharraf to leave office. However, Bhutto's widower, Zardari, has not been so clear-cut on this issue. Qureshi believes that Zardari, and most of parliament, will eventually be willing to work with Musharraf.

Maj. Gen. QURESHI: So there is no pressure. There is no desire. And no such thing like President Musharraf stepping down is happening.

(Soundbite of protest)

REEVES: But there is pressure from these people - lawyers and civil society activists. They're demanding the restoration of the judges thrown out by the Musharraf when he declared the emergency rule late last year. They know if the former supreme court is restored by the new government, it's certain to rule Musharraf's reelection in October as president was illegal. Then he'd have to go or enter a full blown confrontation with the judiciary and parliament.

Activist Malik Tariq(ph) is convinced it's game over for Musharraf.

Mr. MALIK TARIQ (Activist): He has to go. There is no chance for him to stay anymore.

REEVES: Sharif has made the restoration of the judiciary a priority. But, again, Zardari is evasive on this issue. The two men have agreed to place the matter before parliament. But they're not even certain what legal measures are required to get the old judges back. They've set up a committee to figure this out.

What is clear, though, it that the elections have greatly weakened Musharraf. He's also no longer army chief, so he can no longer be sure of automatic support from the military. Yet, he's not someone who usually accepts defeat easily. At least for now, he remains part of Pakistan's power equation. His party was badly defeated in the elections to the national assembly, the lower house of parliament, but it still dominates the upper house, the senate.

For now, he can, as president, hire and find military chiefs and theoretically even dissolve parliament, though he's unlikely to try. Qureshi doesn't think Musharraf's going to lose these powers anytime soon.

Maj. Gen. QURESHI: Except for a two-thirds majority that can amend the constitution, these powers will continue to rest with the president of Pakistan.

REEVES: It's not yet clear whether Pakistan's new coalition government will have that two-thirds majority, nor is it known to what extent it will have the stomach for a fight with Musharraf. Zardari says he's trying to build a government of national consensus. For now, the White House might distance itself from the general, but it won't be deleting his name from its speed dial.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

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