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US Urges Pakistan's Moderate Political Parties to Work Together


The United States is urging the moderate political parties in Pakistan that made significant gains in recent parliamentary elections to work together to form a coalition government. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports from Washington.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the United States is looking forward to working with the leaders of Pakistan's newly elected parliament who are in talks on the formation of a new government.

"We are going to work with whatever government emerges from the process," said Negroponte. "We are not in the business of recommending specific alignments or specific coalitions. I think we would, as a general proposition, urge the moderate forces, political forces, to work together. Of course President Musharraf is still the president of his country and we look forward to continuing to work well with him, as well."

The political parties of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finished first and second in the February 18 elections, while the party loyal to Mr. Musharraf suffered a major defeat.

Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, who recently returned from Pakistan after observing the election, says it is time for the United States to adjust its policy to reflect the outcome of the vote.

"With this election the moderate majority has regained its voice," said Biden. "The United States should seize the moment to move from a policy based on a personality, Mr. Musharraf, to one based on an entire country, Pakistan."

Negroponte says Pakistan has been indispensable in the war on terror, particularly the fight against al-Qaida and Taliban-linked extremists along the country's border with Afghanistan.

In the recent election, Pakistan's Islamist parties lost most of their power, especially in their traditional stronghold in the country's North West Frontier Province.

Negroponte says the outcome of the election proves moderate, pro-democracy parties are at the heart of Pakistan's political system and voters largely rejected politics based on religion.

"I think given the rejection of the Islamist parties, I think the general tendency in the country towards moderation and secular government, I would hope and expect we would be able to work as well, if not better, with the forthcoming government than we have in the past," he said. "I am certainly hopeful."

Senator Biden urged the deputy secretary of state to consider a major increase in non-military aid to Pakistan and to focus the assistance on the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

"The Afghan-Pakistani border region is where the 9/11 attacks were plotted," said Biden. "It is where most attacks in Europe since 9/11 have originated. It is where Osama bin Laden lives and his top confederates enjoy safe-haven, planning new attacks. It is where we must urgently, in my view, shift our focus to the real central front in the so-called war on terrorism."

Negroponte says the United States has launched an ambitious aid plan in an effort to counter militancy in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Over the next five years U.S. officials plan to spend $750 million each year to create jobs, open schools, build roads and improve literacy.

This is in addition to the billions of dollars in U.S. military aid flowing to the Pakistani Army to fight the militants.

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