Transcript

Musharraf Resigns as President of Pakistan

Karin von Hippel
Co-Director, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project and Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Monday, August 18, 2008; 2:00 PM

Bowing to pressure from Pakistan's newly-elected civilian government, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, once a top U.S. ally, said Monday that he will resign from office immediately, ending nearly nine years of largely military rule under his leadership.

Musharraf's resignation Monday signaled the end of a long and important relationship with the United States. Musharraf was one of the first Muslim leaders to declare allegiance to Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. With his support, the United States was allowed to use several military bases in Pakistan, while Pakistani army troops were deployed to pursue Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents sheltering in the country's rugged tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan.

Karin von Hippel, co-director, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project and Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies, was online Monday, Aug. 18, at 2 p.m. ET to what effect the Musharraf resignation will have on U.S.-Pakistan relations.

The transcript follows.

____________________

Karin von Hippel: Hello everyone, I'm Karin von Hippel, the co-director of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at CSIS. We have been working to improve the US-Pakistan relationship for several years now, you can see our work at the main CSIS Web site or on our blog (www.pcrproject.com). I'm looking forward to some excellent questions today.

_______________________

Boston: Why now? After Bhutto's assassination late last year, Musharraf seemed to have a strong hold on Pakistan -- then everything seemed to unravel. What was the crucial turning point?

Karin von Hippel: It's a great question -- in addition to Bhutto's assassination, the real turning point was the February Parliamentary elections. Pakistanis overwhelmingly supported democracy and voted against military rule. After that, Musharraf began to move away from politics, while the new Army chief indicated that the military would pull out of politics.

_______________________

Fairfax, Va.: Any idea on what the impact of Musharraf's departure would be on its neighbors -- Afghanistan, India and China?

Karin von Hippel: Another good question. I don't think it will impact relations with China, as that relationship has survived political ups and downs in both countries in recent years. In addition, China is a big investor in Pakistan and that is unlikely to change.

Re: Afghanistan, Karzai and Musharraf did not have a great working relationship, while the new Awami National Party government in North-West Frontier Province is much closer to Karzai. So I suspect things will improve but it depends on who the next President is in both countries.

As for India, India has expressed public concern about the competency of the coalition and its control over the security apparatus in Pakistan. Pakistanis reacted angrily to the Indian government's statement, while tensions have also been on the increase somewhat due to the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul earlier in August (some blamed Pakistan) and growing tensions in Kashmir. So relations aren't great between the two, but a new president could help turn things around too.

_______________________

Florida: How will the resignation affect the war on Islamic terrorists? Will Pakistan retreat from aiding the West, or will a new government be more willing to go into the no-man's-land near Afghanistan?

Karin von Hippel: I actually don't think it will change things that much. The Pakistani government is very aware of the enormous security problems it faces, and also that the terrorist threat is a national threat. Pakistanis have been targeted throughout the country, it is no longer an issue of small groups planning attacks elsewhere. So I think cooperation will continue, but hopefully the new government will push for a more balanced approach (including governance reforms, education support, political reforms, etc.).

_______________________

Flint, Mich.: Who are the likely candidates to replace Musharraf?

Karin von Hippel: There's an expanding list of candidates, ranging from two of Zardari's sisters to A.Q. Khan (if you can believe it). More plausible candidates include Asfandyar Wali Khan, the head of the Awami National Party, and several candidates from Balochistan.

Zardari is a potential candidate, though he is saying he isn't interested (because he knows that power will be taken away from the presidency). He says if he had wanted to be a political leader he would have become Prime Minister.

Sharif is also a potential candidate, though he currently is barred from elected office (though this could change if the judges are restored).

_______________________

Reston, Va.: Is there any chance that Musharraf will now be put on trial for ordering Bhutto's assassination, or has he been given immunity for this and any other crimes he committed during his dictatorship? It would appear that he is getting away with murder. Many thanks for your thoughts!

Karin von Hippel: There's no evidence that Musharraf ordered Bhutto's murder, though many people believe that. Many also believe that the head of the Pakistan Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, was responsible. Hopefully the planned U.N. investigation will shed some light into who killed her.

_______________________

Sun Prairie, Wis.: Previous civilian governments in Islamabad have gotten themselves mired in factionalism and corruption, and haven't managed to gain effective control over the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies. Why should we believe this civilian government will be any different?

Karin von Hippel: That's an interesting question and in many ways, the glue holding this coalition together was opposition to Musharraf. Now that he's gone, the whole thing might unravel.

On the other hand, the coalition has a clear mandate from the people to restore democracy in Pakistan. Expectations are very high and I think the government will make serious efforts. The military has -- at least for now -- stepped back from politics. The Pakistani press should also play a much more positive role: There has been a huge expansion in the media -- TV, the Internet, newspapers. It's a far more vibrant and active press than even a few years ago.

There are enormous challenges in Pakistan -- not just security problems but also food and electricity shortages, inflation, etc, even a unified government would face extraordinary difficulties trying to implement much-needed reforms.

_______________________

Pittsfield, Mass.: What is in store for the deposed judges? Could this affect the future of the coalition?

Karin von Hippel: The coalition agreed to pursue the restoration of the judges as soon as Musharraf was gone, they even said if he resigned, they would restore the judges in 72 hours. Now that he is gone, everyone is watching to see if they will live up to their promise.

_______________________

Haslett, Mich.: Musharraf's exit does not mean the end of terrorism from Pakistan. So far in Musharraf's and the Pakistani government's economic calculation, as long as bin Laden and the Taliban thugs are operating from their territory, they have been able to get enormous financial aid from the U.S. What incentive do they have to curb terrorism as long as it is paying good dividends?

Karin von Hippel: They have a major incentive in protecting their own people, who also are targeted.

_______________________

Washington: What is the reaction of U.S. on the impeachment of Musharraf, as he never delivered on his promise of catching the top terrorist currently enjoying his hospitality?

Karin von Hippel: The U.S. government would like him to go in a dignified manner, and publicly says that America supports the new democratic government.

_______________________

Philadelphia: A very large number of ordinary citizens in the tribal regions as well as the rest of the country bitterly resent the presence of foreign forces in the area and their attempts to alter political and social structures in what the locals see as their territory. A two part question: Do those people have any right to oppose the presence of those forces in any way whatsoever -- morally, politically, financially, or anything else? And if the Pakistani government is asked to "do more," does that include assassination, torture and mass detention without trial, or is there a kinder and gentler reading of that euphemism?

Karin von Hippel: By "foreign fighters" I assume you mean the al-Qaeda-inspired foreign fighters. Many have been in the region for years while others have only recently arrived. There seems to be a mix of volunteers from the Middle East and also Central Asia, though information remains sketchy as to exact numbers, alliances, divisions and overall goals of the various groups (e.g., local, national or international). They certainly pose a very grave threat to Pakistan, Afghanistan, NATO troops, and potentially other countries in Europe and North America.

In the areas where they operate, they are intimidating and killing many civil society leaders in order to establish local bases. The Pakistani government needs to get more involved in rooting out these foreign elements, and rebuilding governance so that local authorities can provide for their own security and prevent these forces from entering in the first place.

_______________________

Mardan, Pakistan: How would you term U.S.'s relations with Pakistan: based on respect, on power, on sympathy; or based on statesmanship in which only U.S. interests are safeguarded? I am really at a loss to form a totally one-sided impression. People around me have such a variety of opinions about these relations that one reaches nowhere.

Karin von Hippel: The relationship has gone through ups and downs over the past few decades. I am hopeful that it will now evolve into a more positive relationship, one in which the U.S. government partners with the Pakistani people, rather than parts of the government (such as the military or the president).

_______________________

Karin von Hippel: I have to sign off now. Many thanks for your great questions, and apologies to those I couldn't get to. Please also visit our blog and Web site at CSIS if you have any additional comments. Thanks!

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company