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US role in Pak power play

Washington, Oct. 27: Two Pakistanis are being released from the dreaded American high security prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in a move widely interpreted here as a gesture by the Bush administration to buy peace with the Islamic parties which fared well in this month’s Pakistan elections.

General Pervez Musharraf’s regime, according to Pakistani sources here, has asked the US to release all 58 Pakistanis among the 598 prisoners in Guantanamo after the Americans allowed a Pakistani team to meet the prisoners.

“We vetted them and gave our assessment... that some of the detainees did not pose a threat,” Asad Hayauddin, spokesman for the Pakistan embassy here, told the local media last week.

The intense activity around the prisoners is only a small part of a gameplan in which the US and Saudi Arabia are playing a direct role in the formation of the new government in Pakistan.

Last weekend, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Islamabad Ali Awadh Asseri called leaders of the “king’s party”, or the Muslim League (Quaide-Azam), Benazir Bhutto’s People’s Party, the Islamic Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League (Nawaz) and former President Farooq Leghari’s National Alliance, to dinner and gave them a pep talk on government formation.

Asseri subsequently called all the top leaders of the fundamentalist Majlis-e-Amal for an extended conclave.

Significantly, Musharraf is going to Riyadh tomorrow and speculation is that Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz will sit with the general and fill several blanks in Pakistan’s confused political landscape during that trip.

Musharraf will perform umra, the off-season Haj after his talks with Abdullah.

Around the same time that Asseri was bringing together Pakistan’s leading politicians, US ambassador in Islamabad Nancy Powell was vigorously lobbying for the candidature of Mir Zafarullah Jamali as the new prime minister, according to information filtering in here. Jamali belongs to the “king’s party”.

Powell has known Jamali for nearly two decades — since the time he was chief minister of Baluchistan and she was on her first posting in Islamabad as a junior foreign service officer.

Simultaneously, efforts are underway in Washington, London and in the Gulf to coopt Benazir into the post-election establishment.

She is being brought to Washington shortly with the promise of meetings with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and secretary of state Colin Powell.

During two of her previous visits to the US, Benazir was unable to meet top Bush administration officials who were concerned about the fallout of such meetings on Musharraf.

According to sources here, leading Western powers have conveyed to Benazir an urgent need for her to cooperate with the “establishment” and moderate the influence of religious parties in the post-poll set-up in Pakistan.

Reports from Islamabad during the weekend said Benazir had dropped her insistence that her party’s nominee, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, should be the new prime minister. Her preference, these reports said, was for Maulana Fazlur Rehman heading a government of Islamic parties with her MPs supporting it from the outside.

Rehman and his colleague, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, last week met ambassadors in Islamabad and assured them that if the religious parties came to power, they would honour all treaties signed by Pakistan and play by the rules of international law.

The decision to release prisoners selectively from Guantanamo has raised more questions than answers.

“The (Bush) administration was extremely gung-ho in describing everyone held as terrorists and killers while denying them the most basic rights,” Amnesty International USA spokesman Alistair Hodgett told Associated Press.

In nearly a year since the prison opened, only two prisoners have been freed: one was mentally ill while another was an American transferred to the US for legal reasons.

The Pentagon has refused to give out any details of those being released now, but it is known that at least two of them are Pakistanis.

Asked Hodgett: “Why the Pakistanis' Were they prioritised' Are these people being released because some kind of judicial process happened or are they just political bargaining chips'”

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