Negroponte signals US distancing itself from Musharraf
The News, February 28, 2008
WASHINGTON: The United States’ second-ranking diplomat on Thursday signalled that the Bush administration was distancing itself from President Pervez Musharraf after opposition victories in last week’s elections.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told senators that the United States was supporting Pakistan’s people as they choose their leaders after the parliamentary elections. But he made scant mention of President Musharraf during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senior Bush administration officials, including Negroponte, have previously underlined their view that Musharraf has been “indispensable” to the US-led fight against extremists along Pakistan’s rugged border with Afghanistan.
Negroponte testified that “Pakistan has been indispensable” to that fight and said the US looked “forward to working with the leaders who emerge” from the formation of a new government.
When pressed by a lawmaker about whether the US would continue to back Musharraf, Negroponte acknowledged that “Musharraf is still the president of his country, and we look for to continuing to work with him.”
Republican Sen Dick Lugar said the United States should make it clear to Pakistan’s people that US interests “lay not in supporting a particular leader or party, but in democracy, pluralism, stability and the fight against violence.”
Negroponte said Pakistan’s recent elections were a “big step” toward civilian democracy and reflected the will of the voters, despite the deaths of more than 70 people on the election day. “The violence could have been worse,’’ Negroponte said, adding “The Pakistani people refused to be intimidated by a wave of murderous terrorist attacks prior to the election day.”
Democratic Sen Joe Biden also urged the administration to move from “a policy focused on a personality, Musharraf, to one based on an entire country.” Biden proposed that the United States triple non-military aid for schools, roads and clinics and demand accountability in the military aid the US was giving to Pakistan.