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November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
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From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?


A Coup in Pakistan
The army dismisses democratically elected PM Nawaz Sharif

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October 13, 1999
Web posted at 2:45 p.m. Hong Kong time, 2:45 a.m. EDT

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A year-long inquiry into the former Indonesian leader's wealth is dropped
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New Stability in India?
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Of Environments and Economies
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Just hours after PM Nawaz Sharif sacked army chief of staff Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan Army last night launched an apparently bloodless coup in Islamabad. The news led all regional and international papers. An unbylined lead story in Pakistan's Dawn reported that a television statement tersely announced, "The government has been dismissed." It noted initial confusion, as the airports were taken over, and mobile telephones stopped working in the capital and in Sharif's hometown Lahore. In his speech to the nation at nearly 3 a.m. this morning, Musharraf said (according to The Dawn's transcript): "You are all aware of the kind of turmoil and uncertainty that our country has gone through in recent times. Not only have all the institutions been played around with, and systematically destroyed, the economy too is in a state of collapse. We are also aware of the self-serving policies being followed, which have rocked the very foundation of the Federation of Pakistan." Today the general was "showing no signs of relinquishing power any time soon," according to an Associated Press story in the South China Morning Post.

News of the coup was met with dancing in the streets in Pakistan. Most reports noted that the army -- which has held power for about half of Pakistan's 52 years of existence -- had been unhappy with Sharif for some time. In fact, Sharif promoted Musharraf to head the armed forces a year ago "possibly because he was seen as a weak candidate and therefore not a threat," wrote the SCMP's Rahul Bedi. In the first line of the lead story, the Asian Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Karp and Neil King Jr. focused on Pakistan's "being ordered to withdraw from territory seized from rival India." The Associated Press story in the Washington Post echoed this view: "Musharraf reportedly orchestrated the incursion into Kashmir, and the withdrawal of the militants was considered humiliating to Pakistan's military." The New York Times New Delhi correspondent Celia W. Dugger also pointed out that Sharif had strengthened his hold over the courts and ended the president's power to dismiss the prime minister -- "a power that had been a vestige of military rule." The Dawn's story said Sharif's abrupt replacement of Musharraf with Sharif's ally Lt.-Gen. Khwaja Ziauddin "came against the backdrop of allegations by mainstream opposition parties that Mr. Sharif was trying to create dissension in the armed forces."

With arch-foe Pakistan in turmoil, India went into high alert. As most reports pointed out, both nations are the latest entrants to the world's nuclear club. The Times of India's Seema Guha wrote: "The coup will be doubly dangerous in a nuclear Pakistan where there is no political leadership to rein in a general capable of pressing the nuclear trigger." Most worrying is that the "final break" between the army and political leadership stemmed from Pakistan's retreat from Kargil in the disputed Kashmir region, Guha added. Newly reelected PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee held an emergency meeting with his advisers yesterday. Vajpayee had hoped to restart Kashmir talks with Sharif.

Washington, which in recent weeks had warned against a non-democratic change of government, called for the restoration of democracy. "We believe the Pakistani constitution must be respected not only in its letter but in its spirit," State Department spokesman James Rubin said, as quoted in a South China Morning Post story. In its story, the AWSJ reported that the political crisis "is bound to further delay" a much-needed $280 million International Monetary Fund loan. In a separate story from its lead, the Dawn's Shaheen Sehbai characterized the U.S. reaction as cautious, noting that Washington was now debating whether it is "right to prop up a compliant but unpopular regime."

Self-exiled former PM Benazir Bhutto, charged with embezzling $1.6 billion while in power, immediately appeared on CNN and BBC World TV. Several print media outlets quoted her TV appearances, with the Financial Times spotlighting how she told CNN that she would return to Pakistan if elections were held. Bhutto said she understood why the military acted, as "we had a civilian dictator who was ruling the country." But she advised the army to call an election and "return to barracks."

Below the Fold

Branching Out
Most urban dwellers bemoan the fact that they live in a concrete jungle, but residents in New Delhi might have a stronger complaint. Vandana Agarwal reported in the Times of India that "concrete trees" have started to spring up in India's capital. Four seven-foot-tall "tree trunks" with "three droopy bare branches at the top" stand at Nizamuddin Bridge around a rock fountain, Agarwal wrote. "Each has a bulb planted in one branch -- a neon bulb to light up the fountain at night." The trees are part of a "beautification exercise," according to government engineers, and come at a nominal $23-$46 each. There's quite a variety: short squat ones, some with wood-finish trunks and still others bearing concrete coconuts -- one of which already hangs precariously from a wire. But no one seems to appreciate the government's efforts. Agarwal quoted one "artification specialist" as saying, "People often stop by to ask whether the 'trees' have dried up."

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