Washington, Feb.20 : The United States would still like to see Pakistan's opposition leaders find a way to work with President Pervez Musharraf through some kind of power-sharing deal, Bush Administration officials have said.
According to the New York Times, though such a notion appears increasingly unlikely given how poorly the Musharraf-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Q has fared in the February 18 poll, the Bush Administration is keen that the winners find some way to work with Musharraf, who has been their trusted ally in the war against terror.
"Musharraf is obviously a poison pill. He is fading out. The question is, what happens next?" said Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert.
The paper claimed that senior officials from the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House were privately reaching out to Pakistan's victorious opposition parties, while trying hard "not to look like we're jumping on anybody's bandwagon."
The Bush Administration first tried to promote a power-sharing deal last summer between Musharraf and Bhutto, but the deal collapsed after Musharraf imposed an emergency on November 3 and sacked judges.
Despite those actions, and despite Bhutto's assassination in December, the Bush administration still has not given up on the idea that a democratically elected Parliament would share power with Musharraf.
Nor has the administration given up hope that there would be some way to construct a coalition that will keep Musharraf in power as president.
"What we will urge is that those moderate forces within Pakistani politics who now have a seat at the table, so to speak, in winning seats in the Parliament, should band together, should work together for a few goals that are in the interest of Pakistan," said Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman.
"We are going to continue our work with President Musharraf and whatever that new government may be on goals of our national interest."
Administration officials say Musharraf remains the administration's preferred Pakistani leader, considering his record of cooperation with American-led counter-terrorism operations.
Husain Haqqani, a former adviser to Bhutto and a professor at Boston University, said the United States must not make the mistake of continuing to put its relations with Musharraf ahead of the wishes of the Pakistani people, who have largely repudiated his political party at the polls.
Pakistan has never been more important for the United States than it is now, considering its internal instability and what American officials say has been a resurgence of operations by Al Qaeda from havens near the Afghan border.
Administration officials said Tuesday that no matter who takes in charge in Pakistan, fighting terrorism should remain a top priority.