Musharraf, US officials discuss terror, political unrest


Islamabad : Three senior officials from the US Saturday discussed Pakistan's current political turmoil and the war on terrorism with embattled President Pervez Musharraf, who sparked a growing mass movement against him by removing Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March.

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US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher met Musharraf at Military House in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) Admiral William Fallon held a separate meeting with the president.

The two sides discussed militant activities in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and the political unrest in the country, which have raised concerns in Washington about the future of Musharraf, a key ally in US-led war against terrorism, sources close to the meeting said on condition of anonymity.

In recent months the US administration has cautiously and Kabul openly criticized Musharraf for not doing enough to contain Taliban insurgents who launch attacks into Afghanistan on US-led coalition forces.

Thousands of people supporting Chaudhry in ongoing anti-Musharraf demonstration have also tested the authority of the US ally since he took power in a bloodless military coup in 1999.

In a bid to feel the pulse of Pakistani opposition, Boucher met senior opposition leaders Wednesday and assured them that he would be pressing Musharraf for fair and free elections to be held early next year.

Musharraf's controversial plan for re-election under the current parliament for the next five years also came under discussion.

Boucher told Geo TV in an interview Friday that it was the time for Pakistan "to move back to democratic elections and civilian rule."

However, talks with Musharraf remained mainly focused on fight against terrorism, where the president apprised the visiting officials of the efforts government was making to combat foreign terrorist in Waziristan and areas that buffer the border with Afghanistan.

He defended last years' controversial peace deals with tribal elders in semi-autonomous North Waziristan, arguing that these were yielding positive result, as tribesmen were themselves taking on foreign fighters.

Hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters fled into Pakistan's tribal areas after US-led forces removed Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001.

Fallon, who arrived in Islamabad Friday, also met Musharraf's deputy military chief General Ehsan Ul Haq.