U.S.: Pakistan 'Away From the Brink' After Massive Crackdown on Weekend Protesters

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Published March 16, 2009

| FoxNews.com

U.S. officials on Monday praised Pakistan's government for reinstating its judiciary, a move that brought the country "away from the brink" of internal violence that threatened Pakistani order over the weekend.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters Monday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Pakistani leaders on Saturday to urge a concerted effort at reconciliation after a crackdown on massive protests calling for the reinstatement of key judicial figures, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was removed by then-President Pervez Musharraf in 2007.

"What we have tried to encourage the Pakistanis to do is to, you know, take a look at the situation, understand what the implications are of further political instability and to take steps necessary to move the country away from the brink. And I think the decisions that were taken over the weekend were very important steps in that direction," Wood said.

The Obama administration is still in the midst of carrying out a review of its Pakistan policy. An unnamed senior State Department official said Clinton told the Pakistani leaders that the U.S. placed great importance on the rule of law, but also suggested that her "friendly advice" included a reminder about U.S. funding for Pakistan.

The official stopped short of saying that Clinton asked outright that Chaudhry be restored, but said Clinton reminded the leaders that the U.S. Congress already had longstanding "concerns" about anti-terror funding to Pakistan, and the week's turmoil could serve to exacerbate those concerns.

Wood said Clinton made clear to President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif  that the Pakistani people need to be assured that the leadership was taking their interests to heart. She also emphasized "the importance of nonviolence and the removal of impediments to peaceful, democratic assembly."

The U.S. "welcomes" the Pakistani government's pledge to return Chaudhry to his post, effective March 21, according to a statement released late Sunday by the U.S. embassy in Islamabad. It described the turn of events as "a statesmanlike decision taken to defuse a serious confrontation."

But Wood said it wasn't Clinton's urging that convinced Zardari to reinstate former Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry

"This was basically decisions made by Pakistanis for Pakistanis.  And they deserve all the credit," Wood said.

As tensions escalated over the weekend, thousands of multi-party protesters had sought to take part in the so-called "Long March" to Islamabad. But the protesters were subject to a grand-scale government crackdown -- mass arrests of opposition leaders and lawyers, raids on their offices and closures of media and phone services. 

Imran Khan, leader of the Movement for Justice -- one of the groups participating in the march -- had been forced into hiding when the Zardari government issued a warrant for his arrest. Sharif broke his house arrest to join the march.

Khan's spokesman Ali Zaidi told FOX News that the Pakistani government's decision was "the first step towards the establishment of an independent and credible justice system. This is the first time Pakistanis will have a chief justice who will be answerable to the nation instead of corrupt rulers. It's a victory for the people of Pakistan. This non-violent movement for justice and rule of law has no parallel in contemporary Muslim history."

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http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/03/16/pakistan-away-brink-massive-crackdown-weekend-protesters