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End US aid to Musharraf: Bhutto aide

By Dipankar De Sarkar and Prasun Sonwalkar, IANS

London :A key London-based adviser to former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto Monday demanded an immediate end to all American aid to Pakistan, saying the money was being stolen, as Britain piled on the pressure on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf while urging parliamentary elections by January 15 next year.

The demand for US aid cancellation by Wajid Shamsul Hasan, former Pakistani high commissioner to Britain, came as Britain and the US reviewed their aid strategies following Musharraf’s abrupt imposition of emergency last week and a group of Britain-based Pakistani students, lawyers and opposition political parties protested outside the high commission in central London.

In his remarks, Hasan said British aid that was mostly tied to anti-poverty projects should continue.

“There’s a big difference between British and American aid,” Hasan told IANS.

“British aid is very specific and it is the best sort of aid – tied to projects. They don’t do what the Americans do, where the money just goes in and it is pilfered by everybody.

“The US should stop giving aid to Pakistan immediately,” he added.

British aid to Pakistan is currently worth around 235 million pounds over three years, but is set to be scaled up to 480 million pounds for 2008-2011 under an agreement reached by former prime minister Tony Blair.

The US has provided a massive $11 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001, when Musharraf said he had joined the global war against terror. But there is considerable cynicism over where the money has actually ended up.

“It is ironical indeed that while Musharraf declared the emergency citing the global war against terror, tragically his first victim was the Pakistan Supreme Court,” Hasan said.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown Monday urged Musharraf to release all political prisoners, take urgent steps for “reconciliation with the opposition” and hold elections by January.

Elections to both the national and provincial assemblies are due by Jan. 15, 2008.

Informed sources in London say the British government has played a pro-active role in galvanising international attempts for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, first persuading Musharraf to talk to Bhutto and allow her to participate in national politics and then getting Washington to support Bhutto’s return Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the announcement by Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz that elections could be delayed by a year is likely to harden postures in London and Washington, British newspapers reported.

Musharraf imposed the emergency just 48 hour after telling Brown that no such move was planned.

A British official told the Guardian newspaper: “He [Brown] said we had heard he was considering this (imposing emergency) and we thought it was a bad idea…What we will make very clear is that the government must keep to the commitment to hold elections on time, the commitment to take off the uniform, the commitment to a free press, the commitment to reach out other parties, and the commitment to release political prisoners.

“How they respond to that will determine our reaction thereafter.”

British Foreign Office sources told journalists that Foreign Secretary David Miliband then tried to contact Islamabad to clarify the situation Saturday, but that his calls went unanswered. The US and Britain are expected to present a coordinated approach on aid to Pakistan.