ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday rebuffed pressure from a senior U.S. envoy to revoke emergency rule under the country’s current security situation, envoys said.
In a tense two-hour meeting, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte delivered a “very strong message” urging Musharraf to end the state of emergency, step down as head of the military and release thousands of political prisoners.
“Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections,” Negroponte said at a news conference today. “The people of Pakistan deserve an opportunity to choose their leaders free from the restrictions that exist under a state of emergency.”
A diplomat characterized the meeting as “short of tough love, but still tough.”
“It was made clear that if things don’t change, aid money could be cut, and it was very serious and on the table,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “There is a limit.”
Negroponte’s meeting with Musharraf represented the most urgent U.S. appeal to date for the Pakistani leader to end the state of emergency, considered by most observers to be de facto martial law. Opposition leaders have said a free and fair vote is impossible while the decree remains in place.
Negroponte also met with Pakistan’s deputy army commander, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, a pro-Western leader expected to take over as military chief in the coming weeks if Musharraf steps down as head of the army and starts a second term as a civilian president. The two met three times, including for dinner Saturday night.
Negroponte’s meeting with Kiyani was a sign that the United States was looking to court other possible leaders who could keep the country stable and be a partner in its fight against terrorism, analysts said.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, now a chief rival to Musharraf, spoke to Negroponte by telephone hours after she was released from house arrest. She reportedly told him she could no longer work with Musharraf and was focusing on building an opposition that could pressure him to step down.
“In current circumstances, engagement and dialogue – not brinkmanship and confrontation – should be the order of the day for all parties,” Negroponte said, in urging Musharraf and Bhutto to end their bickering.
A key ally in U.S. counterterrorism efforts, Musharraf has said he declared emergency rule Nov. 3 to give him a freer hand in battling militant groups in the country’s northwest, where Taliban and al-Qaida fighters operate.