- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

Envoy ‘redeemed’

For more than a month, the Pakistani ambassador dismissed the conventional wisdom in Washington and told anyone who would listen that his country would have free and fair elections.

Despite political chaos, the assassination of a popular opposition leader, terrorist attacks and a history of stuffed ballot boxes, Pakistan perplexed the pundits and elected a parliament that will be controlled by opponents of President Pervez Musharraf.

“I feel I’m redeemed,” Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani told The Washington Times. “I’m extremely happy. I’m proud of my country.”

He noted the widespread suspicions in the West that the election would be stolen.

“Some people put two and two together and got 22,” he said.

Mr. Durrani also noted a text message he received from the wife of a candidate from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister whose Dec. 27 assassination brought a six-week delay in the election.

“Just to let you know that [my husband] won his seat in parliament. I have to hand it to you. This was as fair as possible. Fair and secure,” the woman said of the election.

Mr. Durrani explained that it would have been “physically almost impossible” to steal the election because of “the mechanics put into place.” That included an independent election commission, which some commentators and Washington officials suspected would swing the election to Mr. Musharraf’s Muslim League-Q political party.

Voters, however, gave PPP candidates 86 of 253 seats up for election and the Muslim League-N of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif 65 seats. Mr. Musharraf’s party won 37, while smaller parties captured the rest of the seats.

Mr. Durrani said he had no doubt that the leading parties will create a ruling coalition.

“I’m sure they will form a government,” he said.

Election monitors from the European Union, in a preliminary report yesterday, said the vote itself was competitive, but the playing field favored the ruling party, Agence France-Presse reported. “We are relieved that election day has passed off better than had been anticipated,” chief EU observer Michael Gahler said.

The ambassador, a political appointee of Mr. Musharraf’s, expects to be replaced this summer at the end of a two-year contract he signed in 2006. He plans to return to Pakistan to enter a think tank.

Briton to Kosovo

The United States might have been in the lead among foreign nations advocating independence for Kosovo, but Britain appears to be the first country to appoint an ambassador to the unruly former province of Serbia.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government yesterday announced the selection of a career diplomat, David Blunt, who served as London’s representative in the Kosovo capital of Pristina for the past two years. Mr. Blunt has worked at the Foreign Office since 1978. London also elevated its Pristina office to the status of an embassy.

A White House spokeswoman yesterday said President Bush has not decided on an ambassador, although Mr. Bush was among the first foreign leaders to recognize Kosovo after it declared independence on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the State Department said it has no plans to recall Ambassador Cameron Munter from Serbia to respond to Serbia’s decision to summon its ambassador from Washington.

Mr. Munter is “on the job, doing a fine job,” spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters at a State Department press briefing this week.

Serbian Ambassador Ivan Vujacic returned to Belgrade on Tuesday to underscore Serbia’s anger over Mr. Bush’s decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Washington’s representative in Pristina is Tina Kaidanow, who has directed the U.S. office there since July 2006.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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