Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pakistan elections put Bush's efforts into question

By Paul Richter and Laura King
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers | Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2008

Two victorious opposition parties may not embrace U.S. anti-militant aims. Some critics fear Washington will interfere on Musharraf's behalf.

WASHINGTON — The legislative elections that radically reshuffled political power in Pakistan this week also have thrown the Bush administration's efforts in the country into even deeper disarray.

The election handed new power to two opposition parties that are at best ambivalent about Washington's chief interest in the South Asian country: the military pursuit of Islamic militants.

And it gave rise to widespread suspicions that U.S. officials are maneuvering to preserve the dwindling power of their chief ally, President Pervez Musharraf. The administration has invested $10 billion in foreign and military aid to Musharraf's government since 2001, much of it to encourage Pakistani counterinsurgency efforts.

The elections concentrated the country's parliamentary seats among members of the party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated late last year, and the party led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The outcome greatly reduced the influence of Musharraf's party.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that the Bush administration would continue to deal with Musharraf as president but that it was up to Pakistanis to organize their government.

The White House is viewed in Pakistan as the former general's chief protector, and Washington's staunch support for him during six weeks of emergency rule last year, a period widely seen as martial law, is recalled with resentment.

Continued . . .

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