Pakistan’s Sharif Shuns 'External Consultation' From U.S. Foreign Secretary

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday rebuffed a senior U.S. official for saying that Pakistan should focus on food prices and militancy rather than the fate of President Pervez Musharraf.

"What Pakistan has to do with its president, who is an unconstitutional president, this is Pakistan's internal affair; this is not Pakistan's external affair. We do not need any external consultation in this," Sharif told reporters.

Sharif was reacting to comments by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher who said Wednesday after meeting Pakistani leaders in Islamabad that the country had a raft of pressing problems on its plate.

"Frankly, President Musharraf is not the issue right now," Boucher told reporters who queried him about the future of Musharraf, a close U.S. ally.

"This is not the problem that Pakistan faces right now," Boucher said. He said "there's dangers of bombings and suicide bombers. There's rising food prices. There's energy difficulties."

Boucher said that he tried to get this message across to Pakistan's new ruling coalition. He met with Sharif, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Musharraf during his three-day visit that ended Wednesday.

Pakistan's new government is packed with Musharraf opponents who triumphed in February elections which installed a new civilian administration after eight years of military dominance.

Musharraf has since taken a back seat, but he remains deeply unpopular and appears increasingly isolated.

Sharif was toppled as prime minister in the 1999 coup that brought Musharraf, then army chief, to power. Sharif's party is the second largest in the new coalition and is demanding the U.S.-backed president's ouster.

A recent poll found 73 percent of Pakistanis had an unfavorable view of Musharraf. Critics also challenged the legitimacy of his re-election in a vote last year by the outgoing Parliament, which was stacked with his supporters.

However, the new government led by the party of slain ex-Premier Benazir Bhutto is also facing criticism.

Pakistanis voice frustration that the government has been preoccupied with internal disputes — particularly over how to restore senior judges that were fired by Musharraf — despite deepening economic hardships faced by the general public and concern over the spread of Islamic militancy.