Pakistani Protests Pose Challenge to Musharraf Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's decision to fire the country's chief justice continues to spark nationwide protests. Are the protests a real threat to Musharraf's control of the country?

Pakistani Protests Pose Challenge to Musharraf

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Hundreds of demonstrators were back on the streets today in Pakistan's capital protesting against the president. Pervaiz Musharraf sacked the country's chief justice last month, and the legal community sees the move as an attack on the independence of Pakistan's judiciary. It's produced the worst political crisis for Musharraf since he came to power in 1999. Joining us now is Husain Haqqani. He's director of Boston University's Center for International Relations.

Good morning.

Mr. HUSAIN HAQQANI (Director, Center for International Relations, Boston University): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Tell us a bit about this dismissed judge.

Mr. HAQQANI: Well, the dismissed judge was acting independently. And General Musharraf, something we must remember, is a coup maker who came to power not through elections but through a military coup in 1999. He has dispensed with one other Supreme Court chief justice before. But this time the legal community said we can't accept this. The chief justice had given rulings, especially in the cases of Pakistanis who disappeared, people who've been missing because the secret police has taken them away ostensibly as part of the war against terror but in many cases just political dissidence. And his rulings were making things uncomfortable for General Musharraf, who thinks he wants to get elected this year.

MONTAGNE: And supporters of the dismissed judge have, as we said, cast these protest in front of the Supreme Court, many of them, as a struggle for constitutional rule and democracy. Is President Musharraf's rule under threat?

Mr. HAQQANI: Well, let me just say that it is under challenge. General Musharraf took over under circumstance in which most Pakistanis thought okay, another military intervention, this is the fourth military intervention in 50 years. Pakistan has been ruled by the military for 32 years of the last five decades. People thought the military might bring some law and order and some stability. But General Musharraf has been very authoritarian lately, and from the point of view of supporters of civilian rule, this act of dismissing the chief justice definitely indicated that General Musharraf cares more about regime survival than building institutions in the country.

MONTAGNE: Now President Musharraf has held a tight control over Pakistan since he came to power. Why has this incident sparked such continuing protest?

Mr. HAQQANI: The important thing to remember is that General Musharraf took power at a time when Pakistan's civilian leaders' performance was not very good. So, at that particular time, people were willing to give him a chance. Then after 9/11, General Musharraf said he's going to turn Pakistan around and make Pakistan more secular. Pakistan was under pressure from Taliban-like groups. Now he's failing on all accounts. The Taliban are on the rampage. They are stronger in parts of Pakistan than they were ever before. General Musharraf has squandered the goodwill of the United States to a large extent, using large amounts of U.S. aid primarily to bolster his military, not to improve the living standards of the people. So, it's just a lot of circumstances have come together, and the resentment has focused on one issue; the issue is not the only thing that is feeding the resentment, it is the focus of expression of that resentment.

MONTAGNE: So just very briefly, where might this lead?

Mr. HAQQANI: Well, for one thing, General Musharraf has definitely come out of it much weaker. He already is. He could be forced to step out of his military uniform which he has held so far. He's a serving general and president, which the Pakistani constitution doesn't allow. And definitely the Pakistani courts, especially the Supreme Court, is going to be a little more assertive in political matters. Until now, they have always deferred to the army and that is the minimum.

The worst-case scenario for General Musharraf is that the protests continue for such a long time that the Pakistan army goes to him and says, sir, it's time for you to be replaced. And that may be his way out.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

Mr. HAQQANI: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: Husain Haqqani is director of Boston University's Center for International Relations and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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