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Senior US Diplomat To Travel To Pakistan

Senior US Diplomat to Travel to Pakistan

The Bush administration is sending Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to Pakistan to press for an end to the state of emergency imposed by President Pervez Musharraf earlier this month. Negroponte is due in Islamabad toward the end of the week.

U.S. officials have welcomed President Musharraf's commitment to allow parliamentary elections to go forward in January, but they are doubtful the process can be credible without an early end to emergency rule.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey, announcing the Negroponte mission to Islamabad, told reporters the Deputy Secretary will push for lifting of the state of emergency to clear the way for campaigning:

"We want to see all moderate political forces in Pakistan [to] be able to work together," he said. "We continue to want to see elections move forward and move forward in a free, fair and transparent manner. We want to see the emergency decree lifted, and to do so to be able to allow for the kind of political space necessary for parties to campaign, and people to express their views, and the media to operate."

Casey said Negroponte, now on an African trip, will go to Islamabad late in the week after heading the U.S. delegation to a meeting of the Community of Democracies in Mali.

The second-ranking State Department official is expected to meet with General Musharraf and other government officials and probably also political figures from outside the government, though Casey said there are no plans for Negroponte to travel beyond Islamabad.

That would preclude a meeting with opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who is being held under house arrest in Lahore, though U.S. diplomats have been in frequent contact with her. Pressed about her detention, spokesman Casey said Ms. Bhutto like other Pakistani political figures should be allowed to operate without impediments:

"We want to see the emergency decree lifted and that means not only making it so that she can go about her business as she sees fit, but that also means so that there can be releases of those that have been detained, permission for the media to reassert itself and operate freely, because those are the kinds of conditions that allow you to have a normal political process," he added.

Casey said a review of U.S. aid programs to Pakistan, triggered by the Musharraf emergency declaration November 3, is continuing.

He said State Department officials have determined that no aid cuts are legally mandated by the crackdown, but he said that does not necessary mean that none will be made.

Human rights groups have demanded an end to all but humanitarian U.S. aid to Pakistan, which has averaged more than $1 billion a year since 2001.

The bulk of it is security aid related to the war against terrorism, and officials here have said cutting it would be counter to U.S. interests.


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