- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A relaxed and confident President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview that political stability is his top priority and that a war between the presidency and the newly elected parliament would be catastrophic.

“I’m looking forward to working with this government for the full five years,” Mr. Musharraf said. “Even my harshest critics have agreed that the recent elections were free and fair. Now, I want to build on that.”

The interview was conducted Wednesday afternoon in a guest lodge adjacent to Mr. Musharraf’s residence in the Islamabad suburb of Rawalpindi.

The atmosphere was informal, at times interrupted with light banter and laughter as Mr. Musharraf sat with several aides and the reporter sipping tea.

Casually dressed in an open-collar shirt, Mr. Musharraf scoffed at speculation in the Pakistani press that he would attempt to derail the results of Feb. 18 elections by using his constitutional powers to dismiss parliament, or not call parliament into session.

“You think someone who has spent his entire adult life defending Pakistan and the past eight years trying to put democracy back on track wants to see the government fail and the country return to political anarchy?

“No. I’m committed to making this work.”

Mr. Musharraf’s political future looked uncertain yesterday when the two leading parties agreed to form a coalition government that would reinstate dozens of judges, who were ousted by Mr. Musharraf under a Nov. 3 declaration of emergency rule.

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, agreed to pass a resolution within 30 days of parliament’s opening to restore the judiciary “as it was on Nov. 2.”

Expectations that the Supreme Court was preparing to invalidate Mr. Musharraf’s October election to a second five-year term as president prompted the emergency declaration.

When asked in the interview about pressure to step down, Mr. Musharraf replied:

“The elections clearly pointed out that the Pakistan Peoples Party currently enjoys the highest percentage of the people’s confidence, no question. Reading more into it than that is risky.”

The president listed his three top priorities: political stability, the continuation of the country’s economic development and success in the war on terrorism.

“You’ll notice that I listed political stability first, because without that, you cannot have the other two,” he said.

“Can you imagine what the effect would be on the business community, both foreign and domestic, or in the capitals of nations allied with us in the war on terror if the first thing they saw after this election was a political war between the presidency and the government? I think it would be catastrophic.”

Mr. Musharraf was asked to reflect on his past eight years in power.

“Obviously, the economy is in far better condition than it was when I first took office,” he said. “That didn’t happen by accident. I think I made some very sound appointments, and the people I appointed did quite well.

“I’m also proud of what has been done to expand the role of women in politics. There are now 60 seats reserved for women in the National Assembly. Those seats, added to those won by women on party tickets, give women a strong say in legislative affairs.

“And, of course, I’m proud of the way the recent elections were conducted.”

Turning to things that could have been done better, he said he didn’t always do a good job of explaining exactly what he was doing and why.

“But I’m not certain it would have made that much difference if I had,” he said. “I think that a number of people in the media could never see past the uniform.”

Thomas Houlahan, a freelance journalist and scholar of the Pakistani legal system, led a team of foreign election observers organized by the Center for Media and Democracy Pakistan.

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