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October 16, 1999
US to accept civilian govt without Sharief
Randall Mikkelsen in Washington
The United States signalled it could accept a new civilian government in Pakistan that did not include ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief, who was toppled in a bloodless military coup on Tuesday.
Asked if he wanted Sharief reinstated, President Bill Clinton told Reuters yesterday the United States wanted a restoration of civilian government in the South Asian country but pointedly did not address whether this should include Sharief.
''As a matter of principle, the United States never attempts to select the leaders for any other country... The people are supposed to do that, not us,'' Clinton said in a brief interview after a White House event on youth violence.
The position contrasted sharply with an intense and ultimately successful US effort to restore former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide after a 1991 coup.
Clinton's comments followed remarks by another US official that Washington was not seeking Sharief's return to power after Tuesday's bloodless military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf, the head of the Pakistani military.
''It is our view that that's not the practical solution to the current political crisis -- to call for his return to power,'' said the US official, who asked not to be named.
The United States, hopeful of a quick return to civilian rule, has been relatively mild in its criticism of the coup and of Musharraf's steps on Thursday to tighten his grip by suspending Pakistan's constitution and its National Assembly.
Washington also has been mindful of the lack of protest in Pakistan at the ousting of Sharief, who did not enjoy wide public support.
Musharraf gave no hint of a return to democracy in two hours of talks with US Ambassador to Pakistan, William Milam on Friday, raising fears in Washington of an extended military rule that may spark conflict with India, US officials said.
''He didn't give an indication of what his intentions were or his timeline,'' White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said.
The Pakistani general planned to speak to the people today.
A senior US defence official told reporters at the Pentagon that Washington might be satisfied with a democratic 'facade' in Pakistan initially, followed by steps toward elections and full-fledged democracy.
He worried that the longer Musharraf held power, the more pressure would build for a new confrontation between nuclear-capable Pakistan and India over disputed Kashmir, which has sparked two of their three wars. ''The longer that he's in charge, the more, I think, the political pressure could (be) on him to move back in that direction,'' said the official.
Pakistani government-supported guerrillas withdrew this summer from Kashmir, ending the most recent military clash between India and Pakistan in the high mountain region.
Sharief's decision to remove the forces after a hastily arranged Washington meeting on July 4 is widely believed to have angered Pakistan's military and eroded Sharief's support among his generals.
Clinton told Reuters he appreciated Sharief's decision to pull out the Pakistani-supported forces from Kargil.
''I myself personally appreciate the fact that Prime Minister Sharief did remove the soldiers... And avoided a dangerous showdown between two nuclear powers last July, and I hope that nothing which happens in the days ahead will build up that tension. I hope they will continue to reduce tension between India and Pakistan,'' Clinton said.
The White House said Clinton spoke with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee yesterday, praising India's 'restraint' and stressing the importance of not escalating tensions between the two countries.
The senior US defence official said Musharraf was known to be pro-Western but Washington had little leverage over the Pakistani military because of long-standing military and other sanctions over Islamabad's nuclear programme.
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