- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

President Bush, who has angered many Pakistanis with his open support for President Pervez Musharraf, yesterday accepted the possibility that Pakistan’s next government may not be as open to overtures from Washington.

“It’s now time for the newly elected folks to show up and form their government,” Mr. Bush said during his five-nation trip to Africa. “The question then is: Will they be friends of the United States? I certainly hope so.”

Mr. Musharraf said through a spokesman that he intends to serve out his five-year term as president, despite the overwhelming rejection of his party by Pakistani voters on Monday.

With vote counting nearly complete, two opposition parties have won enough seats to form a new government, though they will likely fall short of the two-thirds needed to impeach the president.

“There were elections held that have been judged as being fair, and the people have spoken,” Mr. Bush said in Accra, Ghana. He also called the elections a “victory in the war on terror.”

In Washington, officials said they would accept whatever decisions the new parliament and government make regarding the country’s political posts and their occupants.

“That’s for the Pakistanis to decide, and we are certainly not in any way, shape or form going to try to decide for them,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

The United States and its war on terror have been associated with Mr. Musharraf in the minds of the Pakistani public, and some commentators have described the election results as a defeat for Washington.

But Karl Inderfurth, former assistant secretary of state for South Asia, said that the outcome is a “victory” for the United States because it provides an opportunity to “work with moderate forces” that also have a broad election mandate.

The counterterrorism efforts will be more effective if they have public support, Mr. Inderfurth said.

Wendy Chamberlin, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, urged Washington to send a “positive message” to the Pakistani people by calling for the reinstatement of the Supreme Court, which Mr. Musharraf dismissed last year in fear of having his election overturned.

In Pakistan yesterday, Asfandyar Wali Khan, chief of the Awami National Party (ANP), a Pakistani secular party, hailed the party’s election win over Muslim hard-liners as a triumph for moderate forces. He then called for international aid to stamp out militancy for good.

Mr. Khan said economic assistance and political reconciliation were the key to success in a region where al Qaeda and Taliban militants are holed up.

“The voters have made it clear that they do not want wars and militancy,” Mr. Khan told Agence France-Presse in an interview yesterday at his house.

Also yesterday, the widower of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, accused Pakistani election authorities withholding official tallies of Monday’s vote.

“Last night, the situation was that they were trying to change the results,” said Mr. Zardari, who leads Mrs. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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