Musharraf’s Europe tour to reassure friends, sceptics

Nirupama Subramanian

Amid questions over fairness of elections

Zardari for U.N. probe into Benazir’s death

ISLAMABAD: At a time of uncertainty, political turmoil and violence in Pakistan, and amid world concern for its future, President Pervez Musharraf is to set off on an eight-day European tour on January 20 during which he will meet a galaxy of leaders across four countries to reassure friends and sceptics in the international community that the country is safe in his hands.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq said General (retd) Musharraf’s tour was built around the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland from January 23 to 25.

His first stop is Brussels, where he will meet Javier Solana, E.U. High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and will address the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. He will also meet EU officials to discuss “the entire spectrum of Pakistan-E.U. relations.”

General Musharraf will also meet Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt before moving to France for talks with President Nicholas Sarkozy. Next on his itinerary is Davos, and after the summit, goes to U.K., where he will meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

At every stop, he is to address the international strategic community at various influential think-tanks.

General Musharraf’s tour comes at a time of international fears that he has become a polarising figure in Pakistan, and that this has significantly reduced his ability to effectively prosecute the “war on terror.”

As events have shown, Pakistan has itself turned into a battleground for militants, with all its cities vulnerable to suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. Late on Tuesday, Taliban militants in South Wazirisitan ran over a fort manned by paramilitaries in Sararogha. At least 30 Frontier Corps personnel are missing or feared killed.

Ahead of the February 18 elections, opposition political parties are also questioning the impartial credentials of the caretaker government and the Election Commission. And the Pakistan People’s Party has made clear that it has no faith in the government to probe into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

The spokesman said the main focus of his one-to-one meetings would be bilateral relations, but if issues related to Pakistan’s role in the “war on terror” came up, or if the European leaders and Mr. Brown raised concerns about free and fair elections, and the situation after Benazir Bhutto’s killing, he would brief them about it.

Meanwhile, Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari, who had demanded that the government request the United Nations for an international investigation commission to probe what the PPP describes as the “conspiracy” behind the killing, on Wednesday formally wrote to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to set up such an enquiry.

In his letter, Mr. Zardari, who is the co-Chairman of the PPP, asked for an International Commission to “bring the perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors of this reprehensible act of terrorism to justice.”

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