The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, civil rights activist and a former US presidential candidate, urged Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to restore democratic rule and lift the country’s state of emergency, calling for a “vigorous debate as to future leadership options” in the nuclear armed nation.
He also said he hopes to meet with Musharraf and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto after his India visit. Jackson is slated to deliver the Nehru Memorial lecture on Tuesday, sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
“The suspension of democracy and the emergency state in Pakistan is testing the US and the world’s resolve, its moral fibre and the quest for freedom,” he said at a press conference here. “A threat to democracy anywhere affects democracy everywhere.”
Echoing the words of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, Jackson said: “I say respectfully to Mr. Musharraf to free the people. Free the people and let democracy and shared participation reign in that nation again.”
Jackson later said that he called the US Ambassador and the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, requesting meetings with both Musharraf and Bhutto, but added he was acting independently of the Bush Administration.
The US Embassy in New Delhi referred reporter calls to its embassy in Islamabad. A spokeswoman there, when asked if Jackson had the administration’s blessing to intervene, said: “You ask him that. I don’t know.”
The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi also declined comment.
Jackson has a track record of leading successful missions not officially sanctioned by the US government, including brokering the release of American hostages in Syria and Cuba in the 1980s, and the release of US prisoners of war from Yugoslavia in 1999. He declared apartheid era South Africa a “rogue nation” during his US presidential bids in the 1980s.
Jackson also said there needs to be “vigorous debate as to future leadership options” in Pakistan in light of the threat from Islamic militants and Al Qaeda terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, believed to be operating from the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He said he hoped he could help reduce tension by bringing various parties to the negotiating table.
“There is a third force in the wings in Pakistan that could be increasing its strength on the struggle over our position,” he said, referring to Islamic militants and Al Qaeda.
Aparna Kalra contributed to this story.