How is Pakistan different from Honduras?
This was among the barrage of pointed queries hurled at United States official John Negroponte during his visit to Pakistan, which turned out to be series of indignities and chilly, almost hostile, receptions, a prominent US daily said on Friday.
During the three-day visit coinciding with the new civilian government assuming power in Pakistan, Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte bore the brunt of complaints that Pakistanis now feel freer to air with the end of military rule by Washington's favored ally Musharraf, the New York Times said.
The official was questioned at an American Embassy residence, during a reception in his honour, by lawyers furious over Bush administration's refusal to support the reinstatement of judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf.
"How is Pakistan different to Honduras?" Farrukh Saleem, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies, asked the diplomat. It was a reminder of Negroponte's stint as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, when he was in charge of the American effort to train and arm a guerrilla force, aimed at overthrowing the Leftist government in Nicaragua.
The paper quoted Saleem as saying that the diplomat demurred, stating, "You have put me on the spot."
Negroponte had no reply to his next question, either, Saleem told the paper.
"I asked him, 'What do you know about our Chief Justice that we don't know?'" That question was meant to reflect, Saleem told the NYT afterwards, that the Bush administration had refused to recognize the illegality of the firing of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhury.
Many Pakistanis were angered that the United States had signaled that it did not favour the reinstatement of Chaudhry who, it appeared, was too opposed to Musharraf for Washington's taste.
Negroponte and the Bush administration were stone deaf to the changes in Pakistan, though the message of the tune seemed inescapable, Saleem and others were quoted as saying.
The chairman of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan, who has led the campaign to restore Chaudhry, picked up the challenge to Negroponte, the paper said.
First, Ahsan told the diplomat that the lawyers were miffed that Negroponte had not included them on his planned round of meetings.
When the lawyers asked for an appointment on Tuesday, they were rebuffed by the American Embassy, Ahsan said. Then, Ahsan gave Negroponte a 10- to 15-minute discourse on why an independent judiciary was important to fight terrorism.
"I told him that the most effective weapon on the war against terror is people who have enforceable rights then they have a stake in the system," Ahsan told the paper.
Ahsan said he argued that an independent judiciary was a middle ground between the military and religious fanatics.
When Negroponte countered that the new Parliament had pledged to deal with the question of the restoration of the judges within 30 days, Ahsan retorted: "I said you can't build a Parliament on the debris of the judiciary."
Wrapping up his visit, Negroponte claimed in Islamabad that there was no hidden agenda behind his visit to Pakistan and indicated that Washington did not support moves by the Pakistan People's Party-led administration to hold talks with Islamic militants and extremists.
On the issue of removing Musharraf from his post, Negroponte said Washington fully supports the democratic transition in Pakistan and the President's status should be decided through the political process.