NYT : Musharraf Refuses to Say When Emergency Will End

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Musharraf Refuses to Say When Emergency Will End

By DAVID ROHDE | November 18, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 17 — 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, face-to-face meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte — who had been expected to urge the president to end the emergency — General Musharraf said he would do so when security improves in the country. 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.

A Western diplomat declined to comment on the meeting, but said it would take time to determine whether the American message had an impact on General Musharraf.

“In diplomacy, things don’t happen instantaneously,” said the diplomat, who spoke on 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, the general 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 had said that Mr. Negroponte would carry a blunt 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 tough negotiator.

In a sign of General Musharraf’s growing isolation, the secretary general of the main political party backing General Musharraf called for an end to the emergency on Saturday. 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 second western diplomat said General Musharraf would not want to be seen as bowing to American pressure and was unlikely to lift the emergency in the next several days. But the diplomat, who like others would not speak for attribution because they did not want to complicate relations with Pakistani officials, said the president would eventually face criticism from fellow military officers.

“I think sooner or later his military colleagues are going to have to start whispering to him that concession and change is necessary,” the diplomat said.

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

Western diplomats 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 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.

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.

On Saturday, speculation also swirled about American intentions. After arriving in Islamabad on Friday, Mr. Negroponte telephoned the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto after she was released from three days of house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore.

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 Ms. Bhutto that would create an alliance of pro-western moderates that could counter rising militancy in the country. American officials hoped that Ms. Bhutto’s presumed popularity in Pakistan would bolster General Musharraf’s low standing. The president’s declaration of de facto martial law appears 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 puppet of the United States, they said.

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Islamabad.