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Negroponte Urges Lifting Of Emergency In Pakistan

State's Negroponte Urges Lifting of Emergency Rule in Pakistan

Emergency rule in Pakistan is undermining years of successful reforms, says Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf November 16-17 to underline U.S. concerns about a key regional ally.

"Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair, and credible elections, which require the active participation of political parties, civil society and the media," Negroponte said in Islamabad, Pakistan, November 18. "The people of Pakistan deserve an opportunity to choose their leaders free from the restrictions that exist under a state of emergency."

While praising Musharraf as "a strong voice against extremism" and citing economic progress and significant reforms during his rule, Negroponte's visit further underlined U.S. concerns. President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in several recent phone calls to Pakistan's president, have urged Musharraf to lift the state of emergency, restore the constitution and release all political detainees ahead of elections, which are scheduled for January 8, 2008.

On November 3, Musharraf declared a state of emergency, which has resulted in arrests of thousands of political opponents and human rights leaders, the dismissal of Supreme Court judges poised to review the legality of his rule and widespread shutdowns of independent television stations. Even former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who recently returned to Pakistan to negotiate her party's return to politics after several years abroad, was prevented by authorities from leaving her home for a time, disrupting talks and adding to the sense of political crisis.

"We don't think that these kinds of emergency measures are compatible with the kind of environment that is needed to conduct free and fair elections," Negroponte said.

Negroponte welcomed Musharraf's announcement on a date for the elections, as well as his pledge to retire from his army post before he starts his second term in office. During his visit, Negroponte met General Ashfaq Kiyani, who likely would succeed Musharraf as commander of the Pakistani military.

Ahead of the elections, Negroponte also urged Musharraf, Bhutto and other political leaders to redouble their efforts at pursuing political reconciliation to expedite the country's return to civilian rule, which he said was essential if Pakistan is to prevail against the forces of violent extremism.

Amid tensions in Islamabad, Pakistani forces are confronting a pro-Taliban commander whose forces have seized territory in the Swat Valley in the country's Northwest Frontier Province, while 80 people were killed in Sunni-Shia violence in Parachinar, along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

"The best way for any country to counter violent extremism is to develop and nurture a moderate political center," Negroponte said. For this reason, he added, "engagement and dialogue -- not brinksmanship and confrontation -- should be the order of the day for all parties."


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