The United States has reacted cautiously to the appointment of a caretaker prime minister by beleaguered Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, saying it has to look into its composition and mandate.
The Bush administration also kept up the pressure on Musharraf to lift the emergency and set a date for elections, saying Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte would be carrying the same messages when he travels to Pakistan.
Negroponte will be travelling from Mali to Pakistan and will be arriving late tonight in Islamabad. On the appointment of a caretaker Pakistan Prime Minister, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said "I can't comment on the specific make-up or the mandate of this government. If the mandate of this government is to lift the state of emergency and to have a situation where you can have free, fair, open elections in the run-up to election day and on election day and after election day, then that's positive.
"But I think, you know, you have to take a look at what is the composition and the mandate of this caretaker government," he said.
Though the administration termed the coming back to air of some independent televisions in Pakistan as a positive development, it said it was "critically important" that the country get back on the the road to Constitutional democratic rule.
"...It's critically important that Pakistan get back on the road to Constitutional democratic rule. And a critical element of that taking place is for the state of emergency to be lifted, to allow those who want to peacefully participate in Pakistan's political process to move freely, to have access to independent media. I would note that there are some independent television stations that have apparently come back on the air. That's positive," McCormack said.
"But that needs to be something that happens all throughout this period in the run-up to elections, whenever they may be scheduled. It's important to see that date. It's important that President Musharraf keep his promise to take off his military uniform. So these are the basic messages. I don't think it will surprise anybody that those are the messages that the deputy secretary is going to be bringing when he meets with officials in Pakistan," he added.
Asked whether Washington is now looking beyond Musharraf, he said "I'm not sure where these reports came from". But the United States has an investment in this relationship with Pakistan and the Pakistani people, and worked very well with
President Musharraf, he added.
McCormack pointed out that adminstration had worked well with Musharraf but that the Pakistan President had taken a diversion from the pathway he had previously put the country on.
The administration insisted that all those political leaders and people under house arrest for expressing their point of view in a peaceful manner, should be released.
In her briefing, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said "the President, who is in the best position to know what his policy is, is to support Musharraf getting back to a Constitutional government, where there could be moderation and stability, democracy and the prosperity that comes from it".