WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Continued U.S. backing of President Pervez Musharraf risks alienating Pakistanis and increasing extremism in the nuclear-armed Islamic country, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said on Tuesday.
Khan said he came to the United States “to try and convince the politicians in Washington that the policy they have adopted is a disaster for Pakistan and it is a disaster for America.”
His main message to senior U.S. lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was that Washington must apply more pressure to make Musharraf reinstate the senior Pakistani justices who were sacked under emergency rule late last year.
“Sadly, the U.S. administration talked about elections, but did not talk about the reinstatement of the judges, which is the key to holding free and fair elections,” said Khan.
“This flawed policy has not only increased anti-Americanism in Pakistan but it has also inadvertently fueled terrorism in the country,” he added.
Khan’s small Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) party is boycotting February 18 elections, which he accused Musharraf of planning to rig to ensure a compliant parliament.
Khan, who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup and founded his own party with Islamic overtones a decade ago, was among thousands of opponents and lawyers Musharraf detained after he imposed emergency rule on November 3.
Although the politicians were released and emergency rule was formally lifted in mid-December, the Supreme Court Chief Justice and other sacked judges have not been reinstated and remain a popular rallying point, Khan said.
He said President George W. Bush’s backing for Musharraf, regarded as a valued U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, is compounding Pakistan’s problems.
“The strategy should be that only a genuinely elected government should be able to deal with terrorism by mobilizing the people and marginalize the terrorists,” said Khan.
Musharraf took power in a military coup in 1999 but was embraced by Washington after the September 11 attacks.