US envoy calls on Pakistan to lift emergency rule

No immediate sign Musharraf will head Negroponte's advice.

By
November 18, 2007 11:48
musharraf 224.88

musharraf 224.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Washington's No. 2 diplomat delivered a blunt message to Pakistan's military ruler, telling him that emergency rule must be lifted and his opponents freed ahead of elections. But there was no immediate sign that President Gen. Pervez Musharraf would heed that advice, with a presidential aide saying the Pakistani leader insisted that emergency rule would only be lifted once security improves. "I urged the government to stop such actions, lift the state of emergency and release all political detainees," US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told a news conference at the heavily guarded US Embassy at the end of his visit early Sunday. "Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections." Musharraf's aide, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the Pakistani ruler believes the state of emergency is needed to have a peaceful vote. Hours after Negroponte spoke, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq said the government was taking steps to hold free and fair elections. He said any decision on lifting the emergency would "be taken according to the ground situation." Opposition figures say any vote held under emergency rule cannot be considered credible. They say most of those targeted under the emergency - which has seen opponents jailed, Supreme Court judges purged and independent TV stations muffled - are pro-Western moderates, not the Islamic extremists Musharraf said he needed to combat when he suspended the constitution on November 3. Despite Musharraf's apparent intransigence, Negroponte would not characterize his trip as a failure. "In diplomacy, as you know, we don't get instant replies when we have these kinds of dialogue," he said. "I'm sure the president is seriously considering the exchange we had." Just ahead of Negroponte's visit, Musharraf freed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and a leading human rights activist and loosened his restrictions on several independent television news outlets. Negroponte said he hoped to see more moves back toward democracy soon. "There remain some other issues that are yet to be considered, or yet to be undertaken," he said, without going into detail. Still, Negroponte praised Musharraf's efforts in the war on terror and said he was heartened by the announcement that elections would be held before January 9. "President Musharraf has been and continues to be a strong voice against extremism," he said. "We value our partnership with the government of Pakistan under the leadership of President Musharraf." On Saturday, the US diplomat met for more than two hours with Musharraf and Pakistan's deputy army commander, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. Kayani is widely expected to take over the powerful role of military chief in the coming weeks when Musharraf steps down as head of the military and starts his second term as president. A day earlier, Negroponte phoned Bhutto, the highest-level US contact with the Pakistani opposition leader since the emergency began. In their discussion, Negroponte underscored Washington's opposition to the state of emergency and its desire to see her and other opposition figures free to peacefully take part in Pakistani politics. The conversation came just hours after Bhutto was released from house arrest - one of several face-saving measures the government took ahead of the senior US diplomat's arrival. But there were also some ominous signs, with the broadcasts of two major independent television news stations - Geo and ARY, both of which transmit from nearby Dubai - being cut. Both stations said Dubai took action in response to pressure from Musharraf. GEO broadcast a continuous video of a thunderstorm at sea, with its logo floating on the choppy waves. "The pressure was so intense from Gen. Musharraf," prompting the state-owned Dubai Media City to order the signal cut at midnight Friday, Shahid Massood, Geo Group executive director, said from Dubai. Neither Emirati nor Pakistani officials commented on the allegations. Bhutto and Musharraf had been negotiating a power-sharing arrangement - a potential alliance between two pro-Western leaders that has been strongly pushed by Washington. But talks apparently collapsed as the general moved against the opposition following his decision to suspend the constitution. Bhutto has in recent days made increasingly strident demands for Musharraf to resign and has proposed the opposition form a unity front to serve as a transition government ahead of elections. On Sunday, Negroponte urged the two to restart talks and ease "the atmosphere of brinkmanship and political confrontation." "If steps were taken by both sides to move back toward the kind of reconciliation discussions they were having recently, we think that would be very positive and could help improve the political environment," he said. The general, who until recently had been considered a vital US ally and a bulwark in the war on terror, has steadfastly refused. Instead, he has expressed exasperation with the mounting Western pressure and has pressed ahead with disputed plans for January elections, swearing in an interim government Friday charged with preparing for the vote. Musharraf has also come under fire for his military's recent losses in fighting with pro-Taliban militants in Swat, where violence has raged since July and insurgents have captured several villages, police stations and government buildings. A top general announced Saturday that the army has massed 15,000 troops for a major assault on Islamic militants in the northern valley, and the army said it had killed 40 militants there. A militant spokesman said the government's figures were greatly exaggerated, but acknowledged they had suffered some casualties. Washington's No. 2 diplomat delivered a blunt message to Pakistan's military ruler, telling him that emergency rule must be lifted and his opponents freed ahead of elections. But there was no immediate sign that President Gen. Pervez Musharraf would heed that advice, with a presidential aide saying the Pakistani leader insisted that emergency rule would only be lifted once security improves. "I urged the government to stop such actions, lift the state of emergency and release all political detainees," US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told a news conference at the heavily guarded US Embassy at the end of his visit early Sunday. "Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections." Musharraf's aide, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the Pakistani ruler believes the state of emergency is needed to have a peaceful vote. Hours after Negroponte spoke, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq said the government was taking steps to hold free and fair elections. He said any decision on lifting the emergency would "be taken according to the ground situation." Opposition figures say any vote held under emergency rule cannot be considered credible. They say most of those targeted under the emergency - which has seen opponents jailed, Supreme Court judges purged and independent TV stations muffled - are pro-Western moderates, not the Islamic extremists Musharraf said he needed to combat when he suspended the constitution on November 3. Despite Musharraf's apparent intransigence, Negroponte would not characterize his trip as a failure. "In diplomacy, as you know, we don't get instant replies when we have these kinds of dialogue," he said. "I'm sure the president is seriously considering the exchange we had." Just ahead of Negroponte's visit, Musharraf freed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and a leading human rights activist and loosened his restrictions on several independent television news outlets. Negroponte said he hoped to see more moves back toward democracy soon. "There remain some other issues that are yet to be considered, or yet to be undertaken," he said, without going into detail. Still, Negroponte praised Musharraf's efforts in the war on terror and said he was heartened by the announcement that elections would be held before January 9. "President Musharraf has been and continues to be a strong voice against extremism," he said. "We value our partnership with the government of Pakistan under the leadership of President Musharraf." On Saturday, the US diplomat met for more than two hours with Musharraf and Pakistan's deputy army commander, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. Kayani is widely expected to take over the powerful role of military chief in the coming weeks when Musharraf steps down as head of the military and starts his second term as president. A day earlier, Negroponte phoned Bhutto, the highest-level US contact with the Pakistani opposition leader since the emergency began. In their discussion, Negroponte underscored Washington's opposition to the state of emergency and its desire to see her and other opposition figures free to peacefully take part in Pakistani politics. The conversation came just hours after Bhutto was released from house arrest - one of several face-saving measures the government took ahead of the senior US diplomat's arrival. But there were also some ominous signs, with the broadcasts of two major independent television news stations - Geo and ARY, both of which transmit from nearby Dubai - being cut. Both stations said Dubai took action in response to pressure from Musharraf. GEO broadcast a continuous video of a thunderstorm at sea, with its logo floating on the choppy waves. "The pressure was so intense from Gen. Musharraf," prompting the state-owned Dubai Media City to order the signal cut at midnight Friday, Shahid Massood, Geo Group executive director, said from Dubai. Neither Emirati nor Pakistani officials commented on the allegations. Bhutto and Musharraf had been negotiating a power-sharing arrangement - a potential alliance between two pro-Western leaders that has been strongly pushed by Washington. But talks apparently collapsed as the general moved against the opposition following his decision to suspend the constitution. Bhutto has in recent days made increasingly strident demands for Musharraf to resign and has proposed the opposition form a unity front to serve as a transition government ahead of elections. On Sunday, Negroponte urged the two to restart talks and ease "the atmosphere of brinkmanship and political confrontation." "If steps were taken by both sides to move back toward the kind of reconciliation discussions they were having recently, we think that would be very positive and could help improve the political environment," he said. The general, who until recently had been considered a vital US ally and a bulwark in the war on terror, has steadfastly refused. Instead, he has expressed exasperation with the mounting Western pressure and has pressed ahead with disputed plans for January elections, swearing in an interim government Friday charged with preparing for the vote. Musharraf has also come under fire for his military's recent losses in fighting with pro-Taliban militants in Swat, where violence has raged since July and insurgents have captured several villages, police stations and government buildings. A top general announced Saturday that the army has massed 15,000 troops for a major assault on Islamic militants in the northern valley, and the army said it had killed 40 militants there. A militant spokesman said the government's figures were greatly exaggerated, but acknowledged they had suffered some casualties.

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