Think-tank calls for gradual sanctions on Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 12 (Reuters) The United States and its allies should impose graduated sanctions on Pakistan to force its military president, Pervez Musharraf, to end emergency rule and restore freedoms, a think-tank said today.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), which has long been critical of Musharraf, said his imposition of emergency rule on Nov 3 would lead to more violence and instability, and only democratic, civilian government would defeat militancy.

Since suspending the constitution, army chief Musharraf has sacked most judges, locked up lawyers, rounded up thousands of members of the political opposition and rights activists, and closed private television channels.

''The international community should demand the immediate restoration of constitutional order, the rule of law and the legitimate judiciary, the release of political prisoners and the appointment of a caretaker government to oversee free and fair elections,'' the group said.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is an important Western ally in efforts to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The ICG said Musharraf had for years used the terrorism issue with skill, ''drip-feeding'' intelligence while doing little to tackle extremism in Pakistan.

Musharraf denies such accusations, saying Pakistan has rounded up hundreds of al Qaeda members, including some top lieutenants of Osama bin Laden, and hundreds of soldiers have been killed fighting militants on the Afghan border.

Musharraf said his move was necessary, accusing the judiciary of hampering the battle against militants and interfering with governance. Diplomats say his main objective was to ensure his continued rule.

The ICG said the West should outline a series of graduated sanctions, beginning with the immediate suspension of high-level military cooperation, new training, and a review of military aid to distinguish what was essential to counter-terrorism.

Heavier sanctions should be imposed if Musharraf did not resign from the military by Nov 15, when he was required to do so, and restore the constitution and independent judiciary, and release prisoners, it said.

Tougher sanctions should include suspension of all non-counter-terrorism military aid and visa bans for top military and government officials, it said.

If that did not work, tougher measures should include restrictions on arms sales and the freezing of officer training abroad and foreign assets of the military, it said.

At the same time, aid for education, health and relief work should be expanded through secular aid groups, it said.

REUTERS PJ RAI2309

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