- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A top official in Pakistan’s governing coalition yesterday rebuked two senior U.S. diplomats, who arrived in Islamabad as the new prime minister was being sworn in, telling the envoys not to make his country a “killing field” in a bid to save the world.

Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and Richard A. Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, sought to persuade Pakistan’s new civilian government not to negotiate with militants.

They said nothing to reporters after a meeting with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But Mr. Sharif apparently gave his guests an earful of advice.

“If America wants to see itself clean of terrorism, we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed,” Mr. Sharif told reporters.

“It is unacceptable that, while giving peace to the world, we make our own country a killing field,” he said, referring to recent air strikes near the Afghan border many Pakistanis blame on U.S. forces.

Mr. Sharif leads second-largest party in the governing coalition headed by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who was sworn in yesterday.

Mr. Negroponte and Mr. Boucher did not attend the ceremony.

Mr. Sharif, who was ousted by President Pervez Musharraf in a 1999 military coup, said the incoming government will review Pakistan’s support for the U.S.-led war on terror.

He said he told the visitors that in all future decisions, Pakistan’s interests will come first.

The United States has relied heavily on Pakistani forces to hunt down Taliban and al Qaeda militants in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. That campaign, in which about 1,000 soldiers and hundreds of civilians have died, has angered many Pakistanis.

Mr. Sharif said decision making will be “no longer a one-man show in Pakistan.”

“Pervez Musharraf used the ‘war on terrorism’ to perpetuate his rule. No cabinet and no parliament was taken into confidence in any of his decisions. That is why it did not have popular support,” he said.

Mr. Negroponte and Mr. Boucher also were scheduled to meet with Mr. Gilani, the new prime minister. Mr. Gilani belongs to the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, which won the most votes in last month’s election.

The two envoys, who also met with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the chief of the military’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence.

They sought to persuade the new government that democratic reforms and fighting Islamic militants are “inextricably linked,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

U.S. officials have privately expressed concern about the new leader’s intention to negotiate with some militant groups, but Mr. McCormack declined to offer an official position until Mr. Negroponte has “full understanding of what their policies may be going forward.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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