|Bhutto: Time for Musharraf to go
CNN, 13 November 2007
LAHORE, Pakistan — Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto called on President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to immediately step down in the wake of a mass crackdown on the opposition this week.
“It’s time for him to leave,” said Bhutto in a phone interview with CNN Tuesday morning, as Pakistani riot police arrested her supporters. It marked the first time she has called on Musharraf, who is both president and army chief, to completely give up power. In the past, she has called on him to renounce his military role while serving as president.
Bhutto, who is under house arrest in Lahore, said while she has tried to work with Musharraf on a “roadmap to democracy,” the arrests of thousands of people on Monday convinced her he must go. “There’s a total trust deficit,” Bhutto said, adding that she has been placed under house arrest for seven days.
In her CNN interview, she also addressed media reports that Musharraf may have her deported. “I’m told by Sky television that the regime is getting a C-130 military aircraft ready to take me away, presumably to my home in Karachi. But I have not been given any indication of whether I will be taken out of this house arrest, or whether I will be taken to my own house, or to any unknown destination,” Bhutto said.
“So I’m totally in the dark at this moment on what this regime is planning to do with me.” Asked if she would leave the country if the government tries to force her out, Bhutto replied, “No, I won’t go. Pakistan is my country. I belong in Pakistan and I can not be banished. I would prefer to live in a Pakistani jail than to be forced to leave.”
While authorities barricaded the streets surrounding the house where she is staying, only a “handful” of officials and members of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had tried to breach the cordon, CNN’s Karl Penhaul reported.
“These party officials show up to the barricades. They symbolically chant two or three slogans and then almost voluntarily they seem to be stepping into police vans to be taken off for some kind of arrest,” Penhaul reported.
“But certainly, there … is no massing of party interests here and certainly, right now, there are many more police and, indeed, many more TV cameras than there are supporters of Benazir Bhutto.”
Opposition groups had hoped to stage a five-day Lahore-to-Islamabad march and were counting on a groundswell of popular support to carry out the protest, but there appeared to be none.
Police and opposition officials reported the scattered burning of tires in Lahore to protest the barricades. Meanwhile, several hundred police officers surrounded the house where Bhutto was staying and declared it a “subjail,” sending jail staff to monitor the situation.
On Friday Bhutto was briefly confined to her villa compound in Islamabad in an effort to halt a massive opposition protest in Rawalpindi against Musharraf’s November 3 declaration of emergency rule. He has called it necessary to crack down on Islamic terrorists massing strength in volatile tribal regions along the Afghan border. The opposition says the emergency order amounts to martial law and amounts to a power grab by Musharraf.
Pakistani authorities have shut down media outlets and jailed opposition leaders and lawyers who protested Musharraf’s sacking of a number of Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Ikhtar Muhammed Chaudhry. Opposition leaders contend Musharraf’s emergency order was issued to avoid what they said was the top court’s impending decision, that would have nullified his recent election victory, on grounds he was ineligible.
Musharraf has said the newly-installed court judges “accept the election,” and he repeated his vow to step down as military chief as soon as the court approves his third term.
On Sunday, Musharraf announced that a parliamentary vote would take place before January 9, adding that it could take place with the state of emergency still in effect. In fact, he said, the emergency order “will ensure absolutely fair and transparent elections.”
In the wake of the emergency order and crackdown, Bhutto has said talks on a power-sharing deal with Musharraf have been shelved. Fellow opposition leaders have criticized her for considering such a deal.
The United States and Britain, among other nations, have cautiously urged Musharraf to rescind the emergency decree.
“The president thinks that we need to lift the emergency rule in order to have free and fair elections,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Monday. “But again, let me stress that the situation in Pakistan is evolving, and it’s not easy to predict what’s going to happen or what’s going to be said. We continue to urge everyone to exercise restraint and non-violence as they work through this crisis.
Meanwhile, the Commonwealth — a 53-nation alliance made up largely of former members of the British Empire — declared that Musharraf’s emergency decree was taken “outside the provisions of the Constitution.” The group demanded that the Pakistani leader rescind the decree, step down as military chief, release those detained under the emergency decree, remove restrictions on the press and hold elections as called for in the constitution.
“If, after review of progress, Pakistan has failed to implement these necessary measures, we will suspend Pakistan from the councils of the Commonwealth,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon, anticipating the next November 22 meeting.