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  • Western envoys step up discussions with Pak. leaders

    Islamabad (PTI): Envoys of Western countries have stepped up consultations with leaders of the PPP and PML-N, which are set to form a coalition in Pakistan, apparently to shore up the position of President Pervez Musharraf amid mounting uncertainty over his political future.

    Eight years after he seized power by deposing former premier Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf is facing the possibility of impeachment if opposition parties are able to unite to achieve a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament.

    Sharif, the chief of PML-N, is among those leading the charge against Musharraf, and has repeatedly called for the former military ruler to accept the people's mandate in Monday's general election and step down. The election results, he said yesterday, also showed that Pakistanis no longer wanted "US influence in the country".

    Though the PML-N and PPP do not have a two-thirds majority in parliament, having bagged about 200 seats in the 342-member National Assembly, they could reach the magic figure if they rope in other groups like the Awami National Party (ANP) and independents.

    Since the PPP emerged as the largest party in the February 18 polls, US Ambassador Anne Patterson has met Zardari at least two times. The first meeting on Wednesday even raised eyebrows as Zardari went to the US embassy to meet the envoy, sparking criticism from politicians.

    British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley has also met leaders of the PPP and PML-N, including Sharif.

    Sources said the Western envoys have urged the PPP and PML-N to try to co-exist with Musharraf for some time to ensure a "smooth transition" in the interest of stability in Pakistan, a key US ally in war on terror.

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice too has made it clear that the US would continue to work with Musharraf despite the rout of his PML-Q party in the polls.

    "The President of Pakistan is Pervez Musharraf and... so, of course, we will deal with him. We will continue to pursue American interests which are for a stable and democratic Pakistan," she told a news briefing in Washington yesterday.

    But the PML-N is completely opposed to working with Musharraf and even asked the US to stop backing the President.

    "We (urge) the US President not to support a dictator whose hands are stained with corruption, blackmail, bad governance, dishonesty and the murder of justice," PML-N Joint Secretary Siddique-ul-Farooq told PTI.

    "(US President George W) Bush should also reformulate its policies regarding Pakistan in the light of the new realities that have emerged as a result of the February 18 general election," he said.

    Musharraf's position is all the more precarious as the PML-Q is now openly blaming him for its poor performance in the polls. PML-Q secretary general Mushahid Hussain Sayed yesterday said the emergency imposed by Musharraf last year was a "disastrous step".

    The PML-Q, which bagged 38 seats in the National Assembly, also faces the prospect of its new MPs defecting to the PML-N or the PPP.

    The opposition parties are also determined to clip the President's sweeping powers to dismiss an elected Prime Minister and dissolve Parliament, a move that would leave Musharraf as a nominal head of state.


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