- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that Pakistan’s reinstatement of a fired Supreme Court chief justice will allow Islamabad to return its attention to the crucial fight against Taliban and al Qaeda militants operating along the Afghan border.

As part of intense diplomatic efforts over the weekend, Clinton called both U.S.-allied President Asif Ali Zardari and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.

Zardari had refused to restore the independent-minded judge Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, prompting threats from Sharif’s followers to march on the capital, raising fears of political instability in the nuclear-armed country.

Clinton told reporters that Pakistan’s decision was “a first step of what has to be an ongoing reconciliation and compromising of political views that can stabilize civilian democracy and rule of law, both of which are essential to … preventing extremism and violence from stalking the Pakistani people and the country.”

When asked if the political turmoil was distracting Pakistan from the fight against extremists, Clinton said, “I think they understand what’s at stake.”

The United States, Clinton said after meeting at the State Department with Ireland’s foreign minister, will continue to work closely with Pakistan. She said the consultations were part of “an ongoing effort to make our services available and to help the Pakistanis fight against our common enemies.”

Sensitive to the perception that U.S. pressure had forced Zardari’s hand, Clinton was careful to say that the “Pakistanis themselves resolved the difficulties” — without any U.S. threat or demand.

Earlier, a senior State Department official said that Clinton, in her calls, raised the prospect that U.S. lawmakers could back away from U.S. economic aid for Pakistan because of the turmoil. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private diplomatic exchange.

Former President Pervez Musharraf sacked Chaudhry in 2007 after he took up cases challenging Musharraf’s rule. A subsequent wave of protests helped force the former general from office in 2008.

Zardari had pledged to restore Chaudhry, but he reneged, apparently fearing the judge might examine a deal that gave Zardari and his wife, slain politician Benazir Bhutto, immunity from prosecution over alleged corruption.

Also Monday, militants torched vehicles and supplies meant for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan — the second such assault in northwest Pakistan in two days.

Rising Taliban attacks have raised doubts about the reliability of critical supply routes through Pakistan, prompting the United States and NATO to seek alternatives.

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