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Sharif is more acceptable to US: Report

March 17, 2009 14:42 IST

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The D-Day for Zardari

The deal between President Asif Ali Zardari [Images] and Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif [Images] does not herald a solution to the instability of the nuclear-armed Pakistan nor does it ensure the Obama [Images] administration's primary objective of tamping down the Taliban [Images] insurgency, a media report said today.

The Pakistan army [Images], the New York Times said, did not stage a coup but insisted that the government accept a compromise to reinstate deposed judges.

This was seen in Washington as a positive sign, it said.

President Zardari, it said, has been "severely weakened" by his efforts to squelch a national protest and faces defections from the usually cohesive Pakistan Peoples Party.

His opponent, Sharif, emerged as a leader in waiting, but with no clear path to power. Without explicitly saying so, the Times hinted that Sharif would be acceptable to the US as replacement for Zardari, pointing out among others things Sharif's admiration for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [Images] whom he had met with former President Bill Clinton [Images] while in exile in Saudi Arabia.

The way ahead is likely to be messy for everyone, including the United States, and could turn out to be a major distraction from efforts to counter the insurgency, which is spreading closer to the main population areas, it added. But it quotes American and Pakistan officials as saying that there was hope.

For a country that has more experience with military rule than with democratic government in its history, there was the possibility that the outpouring of civil society on the streets presaged a strengthened two-party democratic system and the beginnings of an independent judiciary, the paper said. Some American officials told the paper that Sharif, often held in suspicion in Washington because of his leaning toward Islamic conservatives, was more cooperative than had been thought. The paper did not identify the officials.

In Washington, the paper said, there was an awareness that Sharif's reputation from the Bush administration of being too close to the Islamists might be overdrawn, and that his relationships with some of the Islamic parties and with Saudi Arabia could be useful, said a foreign policy expert familiar with the thinking of the Obama administration on Pakistan.

Sharif, it said, has told people that he got along well with the Obama administration's special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke during their meeting at Sharif's farm last month. Pakistani analysts, too, told the paper that Sharif could prove to be a useful partner as Washington tried to talk to what it considered reconcilable elements in the Taliban. "Who from Pakistan can talk to a faction of the Taliban? It's Nawaz," it quoted an unidentified senior Pakistani politician as saying.

But Sharif has to play a delicate game because if he is seen as doing Washington's bidding, he will be discredited among much of his constituency, the politician said.

Sharif could also turn out to be unwilling to back some of the tough steps that Washington wants. One encouraging sign for Washington, the Times said, was the role played in the crisis by the army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who let Zardari know that he could not rely on soldiers to confront the protesters who were threatening to descend on Islamabad [Images] to demand the return of deposed Chief Justice Chaudhry.

"The military acted to avert, to correct and to clear the way for full democracy with the center of gravity where it should be -- in Parliament and the people," Jehangir Karamat, a retired general and former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, wrote in an article. Gen Karamat called the new military approach 'the Kayani Model'.

During the crisis, the army chief had been "invisible but around, fully informed and acting through well-timed and effective influence in the right quarter," Gen Karamat wrote.




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