A key figure in Pakistan's new government told two U.S. envoys Tuesday that his country is "no longer a one-man show" and that President Pervez Musharraf's strong-arm tactics against Islamic militants will be scrutinized.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's comments came as Musharraf swore in a loyalist of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as the head of a new civilian government.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher arrived in Islamabad early Tuesday, held talks with Sharif, then visited Musharraf at the presidential palace. They made no public comment on the talks. The envoys also met with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the chief of the military's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said.
Sharif, speaking later at a news conference, said he told the envoys that it was "no longer a one-man show in Pakistan" and that the new parliament would decide after exhaustive debate how Pakistan should approach Islamic extremism.
The new coalition formed after February's elections includes Sharif's party. The former prime minister is demanding Musharraf's resignation.
Many Pakistanis resent Musharraf's support of Washington's aggressive campaign against al-Qaida and the Taliban -- which operate in Pakistan's tribal and border regions -- claiming it has stoked a bloody backlash.
The security of Pakistan must not be sacrificed in order to protect other countries, Sharif said.
"It is unacceptable that while giving peace to the world we make our own country a killing field," he said at a news conference.
"If America wants to see itself clean of terrorism, we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed," he said, an apparent reference to recent air strikes near the Afghan border many Pakistanis blame on U.S. and allied forces.
The new civilian rulers have said they would negotiate with some militant groups -- an approach that has drawn U.S. criticism in the past.
Yousaf Raza Gilani, who will front the incoming civilian-led administration, took the oath from Musharraf Tuesday at a stiff ceremony in Islamabad.
The Bush administration has been a staunch supporter of Musharraf, who has deployed troops along the Afghan border and helped kill or capture a string of al-Qaida leaders. But in recent weeks Washington has started to put some discreet distance between itself and a once "indispensable" ally in the war on terror.