US wants moderates to rule Pakistan | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 18, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 18, 2007

US wants moderates to rule Pakistan

Boucher refuses to comment on power sharing deal

The United States wants to see Pakistan's moderate and democratic politicians unite to fight Islamic extremism, but has no interest in picking sides ahead of upcoming elections, a top US envoy said.
US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, speaking at a news conference during a visit to the Pakistani capital, would not comment on the possibility of a power sharing deal between President Gen Pervez Musharraf and exiled former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Deals between other nations' political leaders were "their own choices to make based on their own calculations," he said Thursday, one day after holding talks with Musharraf and other top government officials.
But a Pakistan official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Friday that US officials were going a step further and were actively encouraging Musharraf to give moderate, secular parties more power if he wins another presidential term.
Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azeem on Friday refused to speculate on a deal between Musharraf and Benazir, saying any new alliances would be decided after upcoming elections.
"It is not the State department, but the people of Pakistan who elect their new leadership and only the election results will determine who is to share power with whom," Azeem told The Associated Press.
Musharraf, a key US ally in the fight against terrorism, has suffered dwindling support this year and is at his weakest politically since seizing power in a 1999 coup as he seeks election from the assemblies for another five-year presidential term.
Musharraf met Benazir, whose party is one of the country's largest opposition groups, for secret talks in the United Arab Emirates last month. Both leaders have refused to publicly acknowledge the direct talks, which were widely reported to be negotiations on a power-sharing deal.
Benazir wants to return to Pakistan to stand in legislative elections due by early next year, and her Pakistan People's Party is one of at least two moderate opposition groups expected to do well. Musharraf is allied to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which is sharing his political woes.
The talks come amid rising US pressure on Musharraf to do more to fight militants in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, where Washington believes al-Qaeda and Taliban are regrouping.
He also faces growing calls to quit his army post and restore full democracy in Pakistan.
Analysts say Washington would welcome a deal between Musharraf and Bhutto because it would keep Musharraf a proven US ally against terrorism in a position of power while also bringing a moderate, secular leader into a more democratic government.
Boucher, on a two-day visit, held a series of meetings Wednesday with Musharraf and other government officials as well as opposition representatives.
He told reporters Thursday that he had urged the major political parties to "strengthen the moderate centre of Pakistan politics" to sideline those that do not want to modernise and develop the nation.
"The more that those tendencies can be brought forward and joined, the more solid base there is to deal with the serious problem of extremism," he said.
Pakistan has deployed some 90,000 troops to its border regions with Afghanistan, where there has been a surge in attacks in recent weeks.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States was working with "all parties" to encourage the participation of moderate Pakistanis in politics, but that "any decisions about political deals, political arrangements within the Pakistani political system are going to be made by Pakistanis and the individuals involved.”

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