The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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US envoy meets Pervez, urges release of activists

Islamabad, Nov. 17 (Reuters): US envoy John Negroponte met President Pervez Musharraf today to press him to revoke emergency rule and make peace with Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Fearful of undermining a crucial ally at a time when al Qaida has regrouped in Pakistan’s tribal lands, deputy secretary of state Negroponte was expected to try to revive a deal between Bhutto and Musharraf, that fell apart after he imposed the emergency on November 3.

The US wants Musharraf to free thousands of lawyers, Opposition and rights activists and end emergency rule as a pre-requisite for a free and fair general election expected some time before January 9.

But US officials also fear that anyone replacing Musharraf will be unable to deliver as much support in the US-led war against terrorism, their Pakistani counterparts say.

“The Americans are nervous about not having Musharraf in charge of Pakistan,” an official in the Pakistani presidency said.“They were told that the situation is very, very fluid.”

Negroponte, who plans to hold a news conference on Sunday morning, had separate meetings with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who will take over as army chief when Musharraf quits; Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief; and Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, foreign minister in the government that ended its five-year term on Thursday.

Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup, has said he expects to step down as army chief and be sworn in as a civilian President before the election.

Yesterday, Musharraf swore in a caretaker government, made up of people seen as friendly to his allies in the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), after the National Assembly was dissolved a day earlier.

Depending on how the elections go, the increasingly unpopular Musharraf could end up with power but limited support, unless he is backed by Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. The US had earlier helped broker an understanding for them to share power following an election — but both sides accuse the other of betraying trust.

Soon after arriving in Islamabad, Negroponte spoke by telephone to Bhutto in Lahore, where she was released after being held for three days under house arrest to stop her leading an anti-Musharraf protest.

“Musharraf should retire as army chief,” Bhutto told journalists today before she caught a flight back to her hometown Karachi.

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