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Musharraf Sparks Political Crisis


An American ally in the war on terror is believed to be in trouble, so this morning we will try to assess just how much trouble. Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, sparked his own political crisis. He tried to fire his country's chief justice.

President Musharraf claimed he did that because of misconduct allegations. Many thought it was really because the judge might complicate Musharraf's plans to be elected president while remaining head of the army.

NPR's Philip Reeves looks at where Musharraf now stands.

PHILIP REEVES: These days, one topic dominates all political debate in Pakistani: How long can Musharraf survive?

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

REEVES: There's no sign his opponents are easing the pressure. Several thousand lawyers and opposition party activists were again on the streets. They paraded through the capital, Islamabad, accompanying the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on his way to a packed seminar.

Chaudhry seized the moment to attack Musharraf and the army without actually naming them.

Chief Justice IFTIKHAR CHAUDHRY (Pakistan): (Unintelligible) and absolute power grabs, absolutely.

REEVES: The foundation stones of Musharraf's support are the army, the intelligence services and the government's political party, the PMLQ.

Some party members are privately unhappy with Musharraf and want a change of direction. Absar Alam is Islamabad bureau chief of the independent TV channel Geo News. He says there are also ramblings from within the army, despite the perks and powerful positions Musharraf has handed out.

Mr. ABSAR ALAM (Bureau Chief, Geo News): There is widespread unrest within the army ranks. People within the army feel that the whole army is taking the flag to save the uniform of just one person.

Ms. NASIM ZEHRA (Political Analyst): Don't forget Musharraf is not a hated man, like, people don't loathe him. He's not a Pinochet, okay?

REEVES: That's political analyst Nasim Zehra. She says Musharraf does still have allies and faces no significant threat that the army will dump him. Though his position is precarious, she doesn't believe his role is necessarily entering its final days.

Ms. ZEHRA: Because I think that you still don't see any major national movement that is emerging to oust Musharraf.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

REEVES: The badly weakened general's mounting an energetic counterattack, addressing rally after rally. But what if his strategy doesn't work? Some analysts believe he could go one of two ways. One is to share power with the opposition parties. That could mean allowing the return from exile of two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, secretary general of Sharif's party, says that's a step General Musharraf must take.

Mr. IQBAL ZAFAR JHAGRA (Secretary General, Pakistan Muslim League): Because they are the popular leaders of this country, and keeping them out of the country is giving rise to a political leadership vacuum, which is going to have a negative effect and there might be some other forces which would fill this vacuum.

REEVES: The speculation about a deal between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, under which she would eventually be allowed to return to Pakistan and he would have to step down as army chief of chief of staff but would be well placed to keep the presidency. Nasim Zehra again.

Ms. ZEHRA: It's the kind of some cooperative arrangement whereby Benazir's party can be guaranteed a fair and free election. I think that is most likely going to happen, but it will depend on how the situation pans out.

REEVES: Predicting how the situation will pan out isn't easy. Musharraf's opponent say he's out of touch and has begun making serious mistakes, picking the fight with the chief justice for example. They are furious about the violence in Karachi earlier this month. Forty-eight people died in gun battles, which began after a political party - the MQM, which supports Musharraf - disrupted a visit by the chief justice.

For now, it will be harder to secure a deal with Benazir Bhutto as many of the victims were from her party. So observer say Musharraf may use a second path. He may seek to become more totalitarian and crack down on his opponents. That's what Absar Alam expects.

Mr. ALAM: Going by how the military generals find votes in Pakistan, he will go totalitarian. He will not go democratic. That's what I'm sure of.

REEVES: But a crackdown would put further strain on Pakistan's relations with the U.S., and the Pakistani Army will likely be uneasy.

(Soundbite of music)

REEVES: And it would be difficult to enforce.

Unidentified Man #2: Hello and welcome back to "News, Views and Confused." I have a special question for Michi(ph). What enflamed Karachi's situation?

REEVES: Nasim Zehra says under Musharraf's rule, the independent media has exploded in size.

Ms. ZEHRA: And so any high-handed step that the establishment takes, you know, it's just exposed within literally minutes.

REEVES: These days, Pakistan's media is not afraid of taking on Musharraf, even finding comedy in a crisis.

Unidentified Man #2: The correct answer is not the (unintelligible)…

Unidentified Man #3: Oh…

Unidentified Man #2: …but the media enflamed the Karachi situation. How irresponsible of the media.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #3: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: Why would they cover such a unimportant event while they're being fired on?

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.