By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Top-level State Department official reaches out by phone to Pakistans Bhutto
Placeholder Image
    WASHINGTON — Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, in Islamabad, spoke by phone with Benazir Bhutto on Friday in the highest-level U.S. contact with the Pakistani opposition leader since President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, the State Department said.
    ‘‘He wanted to hear from her how she viewed the political situation in Pakistan,’’ State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, as part of Negroponte’s hastily arranged checkup on the fast-changing developments in a key U.S. ally.
    Negroponte is expected to speak to Musharraf on Saturday, McCormack said.
    Negroponte underscored Washington’s opposition to Musharraf’s extraconstitutional actions and its desire to see Bhutto, who was under house arrest until earlier Friday, and other opposition figures free to peacefully participate in Pakistan’s political sphere, McCormack said.
    Negroponte, the second-highest ranking U.S. diplomat, arrived in Islamabad on Friday to press Musharraf and his government to quickly end the state of emergency, set a date for free and fair legislative elections in January and release opposition leaders.
    The United States also wants Musharraf to give up his position as army chief.
    Negroponte arrived from a stop in Africa, where he said that the democratic process in Pakistan had been ‘‘derailed.’’
    ‘‘Our message is that we want to work with the government and people of Pakistan and the political actors in Pakistan to put the political process back on track as soon as possible,’’ Negroponte said.
    In an apparent move to blunt criticism ahead of Negroponte’s visit, authorities freed opposition leaders including Bhutto as well as a U.N. human rights expert and let two independent news channels back on air.
    But the general also pressed on with disputed plans for January elections, swearing in an interim government led by a loyalist charged with preparing Pakistan for the vote and defending his record during the eight years since he seized power in a coup.
    Opposition parties as well as the U.S. and Britain say the ballot cannot be fair unless the restrictions are ended. Demonstrations continued Friday in defiance of a ban on political gatherings.
    On Thursday the top U.S. military officer said there is no sign that political unrest in Pakistan has undermined the security of that country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
    ‘‘I don’t see any indication right now that security of those weapons is in jeopardy, but clearly we are very watchful, as we should be,’’ Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference.
    He described the military situation in Pakistan as stable and said U.S. military contacts with Pakistan have not been disrupted since Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3.
    Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who appeared with the Joint Chiefs chairman, declined to say whether he thought Bhutto would be more effective than Musharraf in supporting U.S. efforts against international terrorism.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter