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US support for Musharraf causes anger PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 02 March 2008

Associated Press . Islamabad

The Bush administration wants to ensure military pressure is kept up on militants in the lawless tribal areas, but US support for the president, Pervez Musharraf, risks deepening anti-American sentiment among a public already fuming over Islamabad’s role in the war on terror.

Despite Washington’s denials of any meddling in Pakistani politics, influential commentators and average citizens are convinced it is propping up the unpopular former army chief to sustain the fight against al-Qaeda, even as it calls for more democracy.

‘I want to ask president Bush, will he allow any other country to intervene in the ongoing US election?’ said Ibrar Christi, 31-year-old car dealer in Lahore. ‘Now America wants our political parties to cooperate with Musharraf. Why? Just because he is their yes man?

We have voted against Musharraf and his policies.’ President Bush called Musharraf shortly after the February 18 election and the White House has also praised him for working hard in the counterterrorism fight.

That irked many Pakistanis who feel they have sent a loud message to Musharraf — and by extension the US — with a resounding defeat of the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, which won just 15 per cent of National Assembly seats.

The victors — the Pakistan People’s Party of slain former leader Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League-N of another ex-prime minister, Nawaz Sharif — have both pushed for an end to military rule since Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup.

But the US cannot be certain they will press the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants as hard as Musharraf has. ‘There is an anguish about the statements from the White House,’ said Asma Jehangir, head of the non-government Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. ‘They are again giving a breath of life to the old establishment, which is what the people wanted to change.’

But Washington is increasingly weighing its words. In testimony Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the deputy secretary of state John Negroponte made scant mention of Musharraf — less than four months after describing him as ‘indispensable’ to the fight against extremism — and stressed the US is supporting Pakistan’s people as they choose their leaders. Yet when pressed, Negroponte said, ‘We look forward to continuing to work with him.’

Bush has relied heavily on Musharraf since US forces deployed to neighbouring Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. Musharraf, who ended Pakistan’s support of the Taliban regime, has sent about 100,000 troops along the Afghan border, where Osama bin Laden is thought to hide.

But many here feel the strategy has backfired on Pakistan. Militants have grabbed control of tracts of the country’s northwest and launched dozens of suicide attacks. More than 2,500 people have died in militant-related violence in the past eight months alone, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press from police and government and military officials.

As the bloodshed has worsened, Musharraf has been accused of embroiling Pakistan in a proxy war in return for about $10 billion in US aid, mostly of which goes to Pakistan’s military. In a poll last month, only 9 per cent of respondents said Pakistan should cooperate with the US in the war on terror. The poll of 3,845 adults by the US group, the International Republican Institute, had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

‘They (the US) have destroyed Afghanistan and our tribal area,’ said Ali Khan, a 31-year-old mini taxi driver, although US forces are still forbidden from conducting military operations on Pakistani soil. Some likely leaders in the coalition government the PPP and Sharif’s party are expected to form have called for a halt to military operations and for negotiations with militants — an approach which has failed in the past.

When Benazir’s widower Asif Ali Zardari visited the US embassy in Islamabad, just two days after the election, it sparked accusations that the US was trying to rescue Musharraf. ‘Ambassadors ... are openly giving dictation when the fact is that the people of Pakistan ... do not want to see either Pervez Musharraf or his allied politicians in power at any cost,’ the conservative daily Nawa-i-Waqt said, echoing editorials in many newspapers. But Washington denies applying diplomatic pressure, and both parties also deny being pressed.

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