Boucher to discuss political crisis with Pakistani opposition


Islamabad : US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher was due to discuss Pakistan's current political crisis with liberal opposition parties after he arrives in the capital Islamabad late Tuesday, party officials said.

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A number of leaders of the parties of opposition leaders and former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were invited to a reception Wednesday in the American embassy in Islamabad, their spokespersons told DPA.

It was not clear if the US official would also confer separately with opposition leaders. However, Boucher was due to hold formal talks Wednesday with President Pervez Musharraf.

Washington is under increasing pressure to withdraw its support for the military ruler – a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism – whose decision to suspend Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March sparked countrywide protests by the opposition, lawyers and rights activists.

The US administration has also expressed concern at government measures to rein in the media.

The New York Times this week urged Washington to "disentangle America, quickly, from the general's damaging embrace" and support democratic forces in the country.

"We will discuss with Boucher the suspension of the chief justice and the prevalent political crisis in Pakistan," the General Secretary of Sharif's opposition party, Iqbal Zafar said.

"The issue of the forthcoming elections will also come under discussion," he added.

A senior leader of Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party, Makhdum Amin Fahim, and party spokesperson Farhatullah Babar are also among those invited to the embassy.

Musharraf will seek re-election by parliament in October, and a general election of a new assembly will take place within three months.

Pakistani media have speculated that Boucher might mediate between Bhutto's party and Musharraf to ensure the political survival of the embattled leader, who is facing the biggest test to his authority since he took power in a military coup in 1999.

The reports were immediately rejected Monday by officials in Islamabad as well as Washington.

"Look, the Pakistani people are more than capable enough of resolving any political differences they may have, striking any political bargains. They don't need our help to do so," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

But analysts believe the US administration will maintain close contacts with opposition parties to ensure its interests in Pakistan.

"They now see a very strong political movement building against Musharraf and they would like to ensure that it is not hijacked by the extremists," political analyst Talat Masood said.

Representatives of the ruling Pakistan Muslim league have also received invitations to the embassy event.

Leaders of the country's major religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal have not been invited.