Thursday, March 26, 2009

US Keeps Contact with Sharif Brothers

WASHINGTON, March 24: Sending American troops into Pakistan is a “red line” that cannot be crossed, says US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, but he refuses to confirm or deny media reports that Washington may expand drone attacks to Balochistan.

Mr Holbrooke made these remarks in a series of interviews he has given to various media outlets, outlining salient features of the new US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His interviews, and those of other US officials, indicate that Pakistan has a pivotal position in the new strategy that seeks to redefine the US’s approach to the two countries.

As the United States prepares to unveil the new strategy later this week, hectic consultations have begun between Washington and Islamabad to ensure that “there are no surprises for Pakistan in the new policy”, said a diplomatic observer familiar with the US plan for the region.Also, the Obama administration has indicated that it wants to brief senior Pakistani officials before announcing the new policy to avoid misunderstandings.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say that the Obama administration also plans to reach out to opposition politicians, particularly Nawaz Sharif. Senior US defence officials will also brief the Pakistani military on the new strategy, which calls for a three-fold increase – about $1.5 billion a year – in US aid to Pakistan.

Last week, Pakistan’s Ambassador Husain Haqqani reminded the Americans that only “elected leaders will continue to be the interlocutors with the international community on behalf of Pakistan”.

His comments followed US contacts with the Pakistan army and the Sharif brothers during the long march. The term, as interpreted by the ambassador, excludes the military as well as the Sharif brothers from the list of those who, according to him, have the right to talk to other governments.

He does not consider the Sharif brothers “elected leaders” because one of them was prevented to participate in the elections and the other was unseated.

But recent comments by Ambassador Holbrooke and other American officials show that they not only want to maintain their contact with the Sharif brothers but also consider the army a key player in Pakistan’s internal and external affairs would continue to consult them as well.

The Americans fear that the Zardari government is not focussed on the war on terror and is wasting its resources on non-issues, like the toppling of the Punjab government or taking on the judiciary.

They are still willing to help the Zardari government in maintaining its control at the centre, but expect Mr Zardari to let the PML-N, the largest party in Punjab, run that province.

At the centre too, they would like to see a distribution of power between the president and the prime minister and would like Mr Zardari to empower parliament as well.

Source: Pakistan Dawn

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