In Pakistan, U.S. Courts Leader of Opposition
By HELENE COOPER and MARK MAZZETTI, New York Times, May 2, 2009
WASHINGTON — As American confidence in the Pakistani government wanes, the Obama administration is reaching out more directly than before to Nawaz Sharif, the chief rival of Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, administration officials said Friday.
American officials have long held Mr. Sharif at arm’s length because of his close ties to Islamists in Pakistan, but some Obama administration officials now say those ties could be useful in helping Mr. Zardari’s government to confront the stiffening challenge by Taliban insurgents.
The move reflects the heightened concern in the Obama administration about the survivability of the Zardari government. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of the United States Central Command, has said in private meetings in Washington that Pakistan’s government is increasingly vulnerable, according to administration officials.
General Petraeus is among those expected to attend an all-day meeting on Saturday with senior administration officials to discuss the next steps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in advance of high-level sessions next week in Washington, when Mr. Zardari and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan will meet with President Obama at the White House.
Washington has a bad history of trying to engineer domestic Pakistani politics, and no one in the administration is trying to broker an actual power-sharing agreement between Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif, administration officials say. But they say that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, have both urged Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif to look for ways to work together, seeking to capitalize on Mr. Sharif’s appeal among the country’s Islamist groups.
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