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Pakistan’s ambassador resigns after election

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pakistan's ambassador to Washington has resigned following the defeat of the ruling party in Saturday's parliamentary elections.

Ambassador Sherry Rehman sent her resignation to caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, Pakistani Embassy spokesman Nadeem Hotiana said in a message posted on Twitter.

"It is time a new envoy come in as quickly as possible so that there is no gap in the relationship," said Ms. Rehman, a member of the Pakistan People's Party and a close ally of President Asif Ali Zardari.

battered by accusations of corruption and poor administration, the Pakistan People's Party suffered a humiliating defeat at the polls over the weekend, managing to win only 31 seats, according to an incomplete official tally released Tuesday.

Opposition leader and two-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) emerged victorious. The party won 123 of the 254 directly elected parliamentary seats and was set to win the majority of the National Assembly's 272 seats, giving Mr. Sharif an unprecedented third term as prime minister.

Meanwhile, it is not clear whether Ms. Rehman, who is the subject of an anti-blasphemy lawsuit brought against her in a Pakistani court, will return to Pakistan.

The law, which came into effect during the dictatorship of Gen. Zia ul Haq in the 1980s, prescribes the death penalty for those perceived to have insulted Islam or its Prophet Muhammad.

Ms. Rehman was appointed ambassador in November 2011 after her predecessor, Husain Haqqani, was caught up in a scandal that centered on an unsigned memo seeking U.S. help to check the powers of Pakistan's military and prevent a coup.

Mr. Haqqani denies accusations that he was behind the letter sent to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In a Council on Foreign Relations call with reporters, Mr. Haqqani said Pakistan's relationship with the U.S. will continue to be a delicate balancing act.

"The Pakistani leaders have often done it, engaging with your diplomats and officials, giving them reassurances in private but actually not doing anything substantive, hoping that American optimism overcomes American skepticism," he said. "Substantially we must understand that Pakistan's overall mood is one of America needs to help us or we have nothing else to do to help America. And I think that that mood needs to be recognized in Washington."

A Pew Research Center poll released this month found that only 11 percent of Pakistanis surveyed have a favorable opinion of the U.S.; 10 percent expressed confidence in President Obama; and 64 percent said they see the U.S. as more of an enemy than an ally.

Mr. Haqqani said a Sharif government will want good relations with the U.S. and India, but was skeptical that it would crack down on extremist groups that have strained Pakistan's relations with both countries.

"But will he really crack down on the hard-line groups, many of whom campaigned for him and supported him in this election? I'm not so sure," he said.

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