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Pakistan Military Not Seeking Takeover, U.S. General Says

U.S. General David Petraeus
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- The United States believes Pakistan's military has no intention of trying to seize power, U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus said during a visit to an ally that is struggling against Taliban militants.

The views of Pakistan's all-powerful military are closely watched both at home and in Western countries such as the United States and Britain, which are piling pressure on the government to help them fight a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

The military has ruled for more than half of Pakistan's 62-year history and no civilian government has ever served out a full term, earning the nuclear-armed country the reputation of being an unstable state.

In a briefing with Pakistani journalists during a visit to Islamabad, Petraeus said Pakistan's military had told him it was not interested in destabilizing the elected civilian government.

No Indication

"I have seen no indication that [army chief] General Ashfaq Kayani is entertaining such a notion," local newspapers today quoted Petraeus as telling Pakistani reporters at the U.S. ambassador's residence when asked about his meeting with Kayani.

"Whenever we have talked to them they say they are committed to democratically elected civilian government."

The army is seen as the institution best able to unite Pakistan in times of crisis, even though military coups have hurt the country's democratic credentials.

President Asif Ali Zardari, a deeply unpopular figure partly because of his ties to Washington, is fighting for his political survival at a critical time for the region and some of his aides may face revived corruption charges.

The United States and Britain are pushing Pakistan hard to root out Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants crossing over the border to attack U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

The request is highly sensitive, however because many Pakistanis believe their government is fighting America's war despite a wave of militant bomb attacks in towns and cities.

To make matters worse, the bloodshed has hurt investor confidence in an economy in virtual recession.