Ousting of Pakistani prime minister wins favor with University students

by Sascha Matuszak

Pakistani troops staged a coup against the democratically elected government Tuesday, seizing state-run media and placing the prime minister under house arrest. The sudden move raised tensions in the world’s newest nuclear region.
Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, chief of Pakistan’s army, assumed leadership of the government, placing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif under apparent house arrest. Earlier in the day, Sharif had tried to replace Musharraf as army chief.
“He attempted to fire the general without any rhyme or reason,” said Waseem Hassan, a University economics and mathematics major from Pakistan.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon via Pakistani television, Musharraf assured Pakistan and the rest of the world that the coup was in the best interests of the country and that the army would ensure stability and order.
Not everyone needed assurance.
“I think what has happened there is for the better,” Hassan said. “(Prime Minister Sharif) humiliated the army.”
Sharif’s decision to withdraw troops from a region under dispute with India without consulting the military angered many Pakistanis and worsened the Prime Minister’s status with the army.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reacted to the coup with alarm, putting border troops on high alert and calling an emergency crisis meeting of his top ministers.
In an apparent warning to India, Musharraf said “no outside forces” should try to take advantage of Pakistan. “We shall preserve the integrity and sovereignty of our country to the last drop of blood,” he said in the televised address.
India and Pakistan have fought in three past wars and recently clashed in several border battles in the Himalayas. But the longtime rivals are now both nuclear powers, prompting widespread concern about instability in the region.
Hassan and Saqib Ali, a University computer science major also from Pakistan, did not think the military would engage in aggressive actions toward India or anybody else.
“This was a domestic matter,” Hassan said.
Pakistanis have long hoped for a new face in politics, Ali said.
“In Pakistan, everyone is happy with what the army did,” he added.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sascha Matuszak covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected].