Musharraf Refuses to Say When Emergency Will End
The New York Times
By David Rohde

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sunday, Nov. 18 — Continuing to defy the United States, Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declined to tell a senior American envoy on Saturday when he would lift a two-week-old state of emergency, Pakistani and Western officials said.

In a two-hour meeting, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte urged the president to end the emergency. But General Musharraf said he would do so when security improved in the country, the officials said. Mr. Negroponte is the United States’ second highest ranking diplomat.

“The president said, ‘I have noted your concerns and I think I will address all of these,’ ” a close aide to General Musharraf said.

In a news conference before he left Pakistan on Sunday, Mr. Negroponte said it would take time to determine whether the American message had an impact.

“In diplomacy, as you know, we don’t get instant replies,” he said. “I’m sure the president is seriously considering the exchange we had.”

The state of emergency remains a major embarrassment for the Bush administration, which has given more than $10 billion in aid to General Musharraf’s government since 2001 and declared him a valued ally. Ten days ago, President Bush personally telephoned General Musharraf and asked him to end the state of emergency, with no result.

The Bush administration has also pushed for General Musharraf, who is army chief as well as president, to resign from his military post. The general has said he will, but not until the Supreme Court certifies his re-election last month to a five-year term as president, which opposition groups say was illegal.

In addition to meeting with General Musharraf, Mr. Negroponte met twice with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the deputy commander of Pakistan’s army and General Musharraf’s designated successor to head the army. The time and attention paid to General Kayani, a pro-Western moderate, seemed to signal American support for him.

Mr. Negroponte met with General Kayani for an hour on Saturday morning. Then, Mr. Negroponte had a two-hour dinner with General Kayani and Tariq Aziz, a close aide to General Musharraf. General Kayani is widely believed to want to remove the military from politics and to focus on securing the country.

On Nov. 3, General Musharraf declared emergency rule, blacked out independent news stations and began a crackdown that led to the arrest of an estimated 2,500 opposition politicians, lawyers and human rights activists. The move, which General Musharraf has said is an effort to curb terrorism, is widely seen by Pakistanis as an effort by the increasingly unpopular ruler to cling to power.

Mr. Negroponte said he had urged the Pakistani leader to end the emergency, release all political prisoners, resign from his post as army chief and hold free and fair elections in January.

“Emergency rule is not compatible with free and fair elections,” Mr. Negroponte said at the news conference. “The people of Pakistan deserve the opportunity to choose their leaders.”

In a sign of General Musharraf’s growing isolation, the secretary general of the main political party backing him called Saturday for an end to the emergency. The leader, Mushahid Hussain, said that ending the state of emergency would cause “less tension, less political conflict and less polarization.”

“The national interest would be better served,” Mr. Hussain said in an interview with Dawn News, a Pakistani television channel. “The emergency has been having a very negative impact, both at home and abroad.”

A poll in late August and early September by the International Republican Institute, a Washington-based group that conducts democratic training programs overseas, found that 70 percent of Pakistanis supported General Musharraf”s immediate resignation. His popularity is believed to have decreased further since the declaration on Nov. 3.

Western diplomats say they believe that Pakistan’s army still supports General Musharraf, but that there is unease with his leadership. With the army facing a growing insurgency from Islamic militants in the northwest, generals are eager to have an army chief who is focused solely on military matters, they said.

Twice in Pakistan’s history, senior generals have asked military rulers to resign when their conduct was deemed damaging to the army. So far, no signs have emerged that General Kayani or other leaders have asked General Musharraf to step aside.

Mr. Negroponte held a series of meetings that seemed intended to revive an alliance between General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, an opposition politician and former prime minister.

On Friday, Mr. Negroponte telephoned Ms. Bhutto. He then met Mr. Aziz, the Musharraf aide who served as a back-channel negotiator in an effort to broker a deal between the president and Ms. Bhutto.

American officials hoped that Ms. Bhutto’s presumed popularity in Pakistan would bolster General Musharraf’s low standing. The state of emergency decree seems to have scuttled any deal, for now.

European diplomats and Pakistani analysts have long questioned the viability of an American-engineered Bhutto-Musharraf alliance. Any government they form would be viewed as a United States puppet, they said, and be unpopular.

In the September opinion survey, only 28 percent of Pakistanis polled named Ms. Bhutto as the best person to handle the problems facing Pakistan, out of seven choices. Seventeen percent named General Musharraf. Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister who is in exile in Saudi Arabia and refuses to negotiate with General Musharraf, received the highest marks, with 36 percent support.

The poll of about 4,000 Pakistanis had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Also on Saturday, hundreds of Pakistani journalists in three cities protested the president’s continuing crackdown on the media.

In the days before Mr. Negroponte’s arrival, the government allowed several independent news stations to resume broadcasting on cable television, but they operate under a strict new law that carries a sentence of up to three years in jail for journalists who “ridicule” the president.

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Islamabad.

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