Area Pakistanis React to Musharraf's Move: 'It's a Huge Step Backwards'

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 4, 2007

Cardiologist Anees Ahsan was watching satellite Pakistani TV from the treadmill in his Howard County home yesterday when he saw that President Pervez Musharraf had declared emergency rule and suspended the constitution.

Ahsan, 51, said he had strongly supported Musharraf just two months ago as his native country's best hope to defeat extremists and promote democracy. Now, Ahsan said he sees Musharraf as less interested in free government than in preserving his power.

"This is an extremely sad scenario in the tragic history of Pakistan," said Ahsan, who lives in Clarksville. "Even if you loved him before, how can you like a guy who sacks Supreme Court justices and declares the constitution null and void?"

Pakistani emigres in the Washington area are reacting to Musharraf's move with a mix of shock, sadness and deep concern for their homeland's future. Some said that Musharraf should step down before holding free elections, while others worried that unrest could quickly escalate into civil war.

Their phones rang repeatedly with calls from friends and relatives in Pakistan asking for details. Privately owned TV stations there had been blacked out, leaving government-controlled news stations, along with the Internet and some Indian and European satellite news stations, as their sources of information.

Many Pakistani Americans said they had been closely following Musharraf's recent legal battle before the country's Supreme Court over the legitimacy of his election to a new five-year term. Still, they said, they never imagined he would seize power to hold on to office. In addition to suspending the constitution, Musharraf removed the Supreme Court's chief justice and other dissenting judges from their positions.

"It's a very sad moment, because it's a huge step backwards politically for us," said Shuja Nawaz, 59, an Alexandria political analyst who recently wrote a book about the Pakistani army. "If this was solely aimed at fighting the terrorists, there would be no need to replace judges."

Shaukat Malik, 54, said that Musharraf essentially declared martial law and should resign rather than leave Pakistanis powerless against a military dictatorship.

"What can anyone do?" asked Malik, an accountant who lives in Potomac. "They've got the guns. It's going to destroy Pakistan."

Some said they hope Musharraf acted with good intentions. Perhaps, they said, he will keep control temporarily to restore order along the Afghanistan border until free elections can be held.

"We all were hoping they were going to have a fair election, but suddenly I don't know," said Shaista Mahmood, 49, a homemaker in Mount Vernon.

She and her husband, businessman Ray Mahmood, said they hoped Musharraf would now be able to do more to stop the increase in terrorist attacks.

"In fairness to the president, I'm sure he did this because there have been a lot of suicide bombings in Pakistan," Ray Mahmood said. "Maybe he did it to get things under control and then he'll hold an election."

The Mahmoods and others said they will watch closely in the next several days to see how both the Pakistani people and U.S. government react.

"It's very important that things go in the right direction," Ray Mahmood said, "because the stability of Pakistan is important for keeping the whole region stabilized."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company