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US consults India, allies on Pak crisis

US urges politicians of the crisis-hit nation to continue the democratic process and initiates consultations with its neighbouring countries.

world Updated: Dec 29, 2007 13:33 IST
Arun Kumar

As the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto plunged Pakistan into a crisis, the US urged politicians there to continue the democratic process while initiating consultations with neighbour India among others.

US diplomats across Pakistan turned to supporters of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as also those backing Washington's key military ally President Pervez Musharraf urging them to keep the political process going.

In Washington, two senior officials, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher began a round of consultations with the international community besides neighbours India and Afghanistan.

"We've continued to encourage calm, and we've of course also reiterated the point that we believe that it's important that the political process and the process of developing Pakistan's democracy continue," State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters on Friday, describing it as "our basic message" to the Pakistanis.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice herself told reporters at the Embassy of Pakistan, where she had gone to sign the condolence book for Bhutto, said "the way to honour her memory is to continue the democratic process in Pakistan so that the democracy that she so hoped for can emerge."

"We are in contact with people in Pakistan, all of the parties. But obviously, it's just very important that the democratic process go forward," she said.

Casey said US diplomats have been keeping in close touch with representatives of the broad political spectrum in Pakistan including those of Sharif, who had announced a boycott of scheduled Jan 8 elections in the aftermath of the assassination.

Burns and Boucher have been consulting with a number of other countries on this issue, he said. The contacts included the British, Canadians, French, Russians, and other countries "that certainly have all had an interest in promoting peace and stability and the development of the political system in Pakistan."

"I believe the Indians have been talked (to)...had discussions as well," besides Afghanistan and some of Pakistan's other neighbours as part of consultations with a range of people in the international community, he said.

"We're all interested in seeing that in light of this tragic incident, that things still are able to move forward and that Pakistan is able to continues down a democratic path," Casey said.

Asked if the US had urged Sharif to reconsider his boycott of the election, the US official said, "We encourage all moderate forces in Pakistan to work together and to cooperate in what is a common fight against extremism and a common desire to see Pakistan move forward as a moderate modern Islamic country.

But "Sharif as well as other political leaders are going to have to make their own calculation and their own decisions as to what to do.

"Certainly, we would encourage him and all others in Pakistan to participate in the political process and to help ensure and help work to see that the elections and that that process are more open and fair and transparent," he said.

Casey said he didn't have any independent confirmation of Pakistan government's claims that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the assassination, but "certainly we are aware of the fact that elements that are related to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as homegrown extremist groups, are active in Pakistan."

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton too has demanded an independent investigation into the assassination.

The spokesman again made it clear that "we are going to continue to work with President Musharraf, the government of Pakistan, with the various political players in that country, to promote those goals.

"I'll have to leave it to others to make assertions as to whether, you know, this incident or any other things that happen along the way on that road are more favourable or less favourable to President Musharraf or any of the other actors out there."

Asked if the US still wanted Pakistan to go ahead with the Jan 8 elections, Casey said there was no "magic about it", but "if an election can be held smoothly and safely on January 8th, as currently scheduled, then by all means it should move forward.

"If political parties and actors in the country come to some different conclusion, then certainly we'll take a look at it then," he added.

Whether the elections can be held "smoothly and fairly" by that date was for the Pakistani to decide, but "I have not heard any individual party leaders or others suggest that that is impossible to do."