NYT : Envoy Elicits No New Promises From Musharraf

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Envoy Elicits No New Promises From Musharraf

By DAVID ROHDE | November 17, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 17 — Continuing to defy the United States, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan declined to say when he would lift a two-week-old state of emergency during a meeting with a senior American envoy today, Pakistani and Western officials said.

In a two-hour, face-to-face meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, the United States’ second highest ranking diplomat, General Musharraf said he would end the state of emergency when security improves in the country.

"He said that they were looking into the administration and there were quite a few factors," said a close aide to General Musharraf. "The president said ’I have noted your concerns and I think I will address all of these.’" A Western diplomat declined to comment on the meeting, but said it would take time to determine whether the American message had had an impact on General Musharraf.

"In diplomacy, things don’t happen instantaneously," said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He came with a very strong message and he delivered a very strong message."

General Musharraf’s defiance continues to be a major embarrassment for the Bush administration, which has provided more than $10 billion in aid to the military leader’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.

On Nov. 3, General Musharraf declared de facto martial law in Pakistan, blacked out independent news stations and arrested 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.

American officials said that Mr. Negroponte would carry a stiff warning to the Pakistani leader to end the emergency, release all prisoners, resign from his post as army chief and hold free and fair elections in January. The first-ever director of national intelligence and a longtime diplomat, Mr. Negroponte is known as a blunt negotiator who played a role in the Iran-Contra scandal.

In a sign of General Musharraf’s growing isolation, the chairman of the Pakistani leader’s own political party called for an end to the emergency today. Mushahid Hussain, the chairman of the pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, 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 conducted in early September by the International Republican Institute, a Washington-based non-profit group, before the emergency declaration found that 79 percent of Pakistanis disapproved of General Musharraf’s job performance and that 70 percent supported his immediate resignation. His popularity is believed to have decreased further since the Nov. 3 declaration.

A second western diplomat said General Musharraf would not want to be seen as bowing to American pressure and is unlikely to lift the emergency in the next several days. But they said he will eventually face criticism from fellow military officers.

"Nothing he’s doing is relieving the pressure on him," said the diplomat. "I think sooner or later his military colleagues are going to have to start whispering to him that concession and change is necessary."

Before meeting with General Musharraf, Mr. Negroponte met with General Ashfaq Kayani, the deputy commander of Pakistan’s army. Mr. Kayani, a pro-Western moderate, is General Musharraf’s designated successor and widely believed to want to remove the army from politics and focus on securing the country.

Western diplomats believe that Pakistan’s army still supports General Musharraf, but 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 and not distracted by politics, they said.

Twice in Pakistan’s history, senior generals have asked military rulers to resign when their conduct was deemed to be damaging to the army as an institution.

"The consensus is the generals are very uneasy," said the second Western diplomat. "The longer it goes on the more damage is done and that is something that will be uppermost in the minds of the generals."

American and Pakistani officials declined to comment on the meeting between Mr. Negroponte and General Kayani. Pakistani officials said that General Kayani also attended a subsequent meeting between Mr. Negroponte and General Musharraf.

General Musharraf’s crackdown on the Pakistani media continues, according to local journalists. On Friday night, pressure from General Musharraf caused officials in Dubai to block all broadcasts from two independent television networks, ARY and Geo. While blocked from Pakistan’s cable TV system, the two stations’ broadcasts from their studios in Dubai could be seen online and via satellite.

Government officials have ordered stations to cancel talk shows they dislike, according to local journalists. They said owners, who have lost millions of dollars in ad revenues since being shut down, are acquiescing.

"The news coverage that we’re doing is evoking a really harsh reaction from the government," said Talat Hussain, an anchor with Aaj television who resigned today after management canceled his talk show. "And the owners are not really standing up to government pressure."

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

Today, speculation also swirled about which local politicians the United States was backing. After arriving in Islamabad on Friday, Mr. Negroponte telephoned opposition leader Benazir Bhutto after she was released from three days of house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore. The police had blocked Mrs. Bhutto and her supporters from carrying out a protest march from Lahore to Islamabad.

Mr. Negroponte also met Tariq Aziz, secretary of the National Security Council and a close aide of General Musharraf. Mr. Aziz served as a back-channel negotiator in an American effort to broker a deal between General Musharraf and Mrs. Bhutto that would create an alliance of pro-Western moderates that could counter rising militancy the country. American officials hoped that Mrs. Bhutto’s presumed popularity in Pakistan would bolster General Musharraf’s low standing.

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 puppet of the United States, they said, and both leaders appear to be unpopular.

In the September opinion survey, only 28 percent of Pakistanis polled named Mrs. Bhutto as the best person to handle the problems facing Pakistan. Seventeen percent named General Musharraf. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia and refuses to negotiate with General Musharraf, received the highest marks, with 36 percent support.

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Islamabad.