SYDNEY: Prime Minister John Howard says he has spoken to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and raised Australia’s concerns about the state of emergency declared in the country. Mr. Howard says he respects General Musharraf’s anti-terrorism stance, but during a phone conversation last night he urged him to show restraint in a difficult situation, ABC reports.
“[I told him] Australia could not support any extra constitutional behaviour, that the rule of law had to prevail and that I hoped there would be an early return to a more democratic path,” he said. The US says it is reviewing billions of dollars of financial aid to Pakistan after General Musharraf declared a state of emergency, thwarting US hopes of a transition to civilian-led democracy.
Pakistani police have been rounding up hundreds of people after General Musharraf defied US pressure and widespread domestic opposition by imposing the state of emergency. Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says he is concerned that Pakistan’s political crisis could threaten the safety of Australian troops in Afghanistan. Mr Downer is worried the instability will encourage Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in Pakistan’s west – which he says is a source of Afghanistan’s troubles.
He has called in Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Australia to express his concerns about the effect the crisis will have on Australian soldiers. “We’ve had two killed recently, we’ve had another injured very recently, we had others injured over a period of time,” he said.”A lot of the support for the Taliban is coming out of Pakistan and we need a stable Pakistan and we need more to be done to counter terrorism in Pakistan.”
But Mr Downer says Australia would not consider withdrawing aid because he says it helps fight terrorism. “We don’t want to withdraw aid that might be helping to stabilise the country,” he said. “We announced recently an increase in aid into the western part of Pakistan in order to try to contribute to stabilising that part of the country and reducing the influence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”
But the federal Opposition wants Australia to consider freezing non-humanitarian aid until Pakistan’s democratic process resumes. Labor Leader Kevin Rudd says what is happening in Pakistan now is a retrograde step. “The developments in the last 24 to 48 hours are of big concern to all Australians and all supporters of democracy,” he said. “I would call upon the Government of Pakistan to restore that country’s democratic and constitutional processes as early as possible.”-SANA