Britain asks Musharraf to shed uniform; Pakistan disapproves

Islamabad, May 17 (IANS) Britain has said President Pervez Musharraf should separate the presidency from the army chief’s post and hold free and fair elections by the end of this year.

British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley, who spoke to the media after an event organised by Muslim Aid in Lahore, said this was what the Commonwealth wanted.

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He also said his country wanted to see free and fair elections in Pakistan, which would only be possible with a peaceful law and order situation and an independent judiciary.

But the remark earned disapproval from the Pakistan government. Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam criticised Brinkley’s comments, saying they amounted to “an intervention in Pakistan’s internal affairs”, The Daily Times said.

Talking to Geo television, Aslam said Pakistan didn’t need “a lecture from anyone” on this issue.

“President Musharraf has made a commitment to the Pakistani nation and he will decide the issue of dual offices according to the constitution,” she recalled.

She said that Brinkley’s statement was in the context of the Commonwealth’s stance and Pakistan already knew what the Commonwealth’s position was.

Commonwealth, the organisation of former British-ruled countries, has suspended Pakistan’s membership since Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup deposing elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999.

Political analysts said Brinkley’s observations, made on behalf of the Commonwealth, indicated the West’s continuing reassessment of Pakistan and its current leadership that are caught in a crisis over Musharraf’s suspension of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, triggering nationwide protests in the last two months.

The protests have led to a breakdown of law and order and even turned violent in Karachi last weekend, when 48 people were killed.

Brinkley said an independent and transparent judiciary is not only important for running the country in a democratic manner but also plays a key role in holding transparent and fair elections. He said that all political parties should be given equal opportunity to campaign for the elections.

Three of the major political players of Pakistan’s politics – former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain, are exiled and operate from London.

Brinkley also said he had urged the government to fight terrorism in coordination with other countries. He said British people grieved over the recent blasts in Peshawar and Charsadda and wanted Pakistan and all other countries that were victims of terrorism to fight it together.

Britain has detained a number of its nationals of Pakistani origin on charges of being engaged in terrorism, including the July 2005 train explosions in London and last year’s aborted attempt to bomb civilian aircraft flying out of London on trans-Atlantic flights.