Pakistani journalists from private news channels Geo News and ARY TV protest against being shut down by Dubai authorities under pressure from General Musharaff
Daily Mail | Nov 19, 2007
Pakistan has dismissed a call by a top American diplomat for an end to emergency rule and freeing of thousands of political opponents.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq told reporters: “This is nothing new,” after Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte issued a blunt warning that Musharraf must end emergency rule as soon as possible.
He said: “The US has been saying this for many days. He has said that same thing. He has reiterated it.”
Musharraf has insisted he will only lift emergency rule if the security situation improves, and has suggested that such a move is unlikely before parliamentary elections scheduled to be held by January 9th.
The opposition says a free and fair vote could never be held while thousands of opponents are behind bars and political parties are denied the right to assemble.
In London, protests were held over the weekend, with Jemima Khan, the ex-wife of Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan, joining in with her son.
Mr Khan, the leader of a small but very vocal opposition group, was arrested by Pakistani police earlier this week after appearing at a student protest against the imposition of emergency rule by the country’s leader General Pervez Musharraf.
Millionaire socialite Jemima has spoken of her fears for her ex-husband and difficulty in telling her sons about their father’s situation.
But despite Musharraf’s intransigence, Negroponte told a final news conference in Pakistan he hoped that the president was listening.
He said: “I urged the government to stop such actions, lift the state of emergency and release all political detainees,” Negroponte told reporters at the US Embassy.
“Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections.”
Musharraf has not commented publicly since Negroponte’s statement, but Sadiq insisted the government was taking all necessary steps to hold fair elections.
An official in the president’s office said on Saturday that Musharraf told Negroponte the emergency was needed to hold a successful vote.
Sadiq added that any decision to lift the emergency would “be taken according to the ground situation.”
Despite Musharraf’s apparent intransigence, Negroponte would not characterize his trip as a failure. “In diplomacy, as you know, we don’t get instant replies when we have these kinds of dialogue,” he said.
“I’m sure the president is seriously considering the exchange we had.”
With neither side blinking, it was not entirely clear what measures Washington could take next to pressure its ally.
Senior Bush administration officials have said publicly that they have no plans to cut off the billions of dollars in military aid that Pakistan receives each year to fight al-Qaida and other Islamic militants.
Negroponte met for more than two hours on Saturday with Musharraf and Pakistan’s deputy army commander, General Ashfaq Kayani, as well as other leaders.
He also spoke by phone with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan last month hoping to work out a power-sharing deal with Musharraf but has ended up becoming one of the leading voices calling for his resignation.
On Sunday, Negroponte urged the two to restart talks and ease “the atmosphere of brinkmanship and political confrontation.”
“If steps were taken by both sides to move back toward the kind of reconciliation discussions they were having recently, we think that would be very positive and could help improve the political environment,” he said.
Musharraf has said he will step down as army chief by the end of the month, but has insisted that he will serve out a five-year term as civilian president. He won the extra term in an October vote in parliament.
The Supreme Court was set to rule on whether the vote was constitutional when Musharraf declared the emergency on November 3, effectively purging the court.
In addition, some 2,500 opponents have been jailed and independent TV stations taken off the air.
Musharraf has defended the moves, saying they are necessary as his forces struggle to combat an increasingly virulent Islamic insurgency.
But opponents note that the vast majority of those targeted in the crackdown have been pro-Western moderates, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists.
Though measured in his comments, Negroponte expressed some impatience with Musharraf, saying he hoped to see more steps toward democracy soon.
“There remain some other issues that are yet to be considered, or yet to be undertaken,” he said.