Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Giving up on Musharraf

The presence of senior U.S. officials in Pakistan appears to demonstrate that Washington is finally willing to cut ties with President Pervez Musharraf and work with opposition parties who have taken control of the new civilian government. President Bush telephoned the new Pakistani prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, after his swearing-in today to underline U.S. support. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher already were in Pakistan to attend the swearing-in ceremony. Musharraf, the former army commander who seized power in a coup in 1999 and has had the financial and military backing of the United States, appears to be on the way out after his political party was roundly defeated in last month's parliamentary elections. Gilani immediately released the Supreme Court justices who Musharraf had arrested to stop them from ruling on challenges to his re-election. The U.S. officials wanted assurances from Pakistan that it would maintain a hard line on militant groups operating in the border region with Afghanistan. "Pakistan would continue to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations since it is in Pakistan's own national interest," Gilani told Bush, according to the Reuters international news agency. U.S. officials apparently feared a backlash from the civilian coalition that took nearly two-thirds of the seats in the national assembly, since the leaders of both parties — Gilani of the Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League-N were jailed by Musharraf. But Washington considers Pakistan a vital ally in the war against terror, whether Musharraf is in charge or not. Gilani spent five years in custody and Sharif, who was prime minister when Musharraf seized power, was sentenced to life in prison but was exiled to Saudi Arabia in 2000.

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