Bush has ‘frank dis­cus­sion’ on elec­tions with Pak­istani leader

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Jon Ward and Sharon Behn

Pres­i­dent Bush on Nov. 7 spoke with Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf for the first time since his Nov. 3 dec­la­ra­tion of emer­gency rule, telling the army gen­eral to hold free elec­tions by Jan­uary and re­sign his mil­i­tary post.

“My mes­sage was that we be­lieve strongly in elec­tions, and that you ought to have elec­tions soon, and you need to take off your uni­form,” Mr. Bush told re­porters with French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy at his side.

“You can’t be the pres­i­dent and the head of the mil­i­tary at the same time,” Mr. Bush said he told Gen. Mushar­raf by tele­phone. “So I had a very frank dis­cus­sion with him,” he added.

At the same time, Mr. Bush de­fended his un­will­ing­ness to come down harder on Gen. Mushar­raf since the Pak­istani leader took to­tal con­trol of his coun­try on Nov. 3, ar­gu­ing that the sit­u­a­tion in Pak­istan is dif­fer­ent from the re­cent crack­down by mil­i­tary rulers in Burma.

Mr. Bush has been crit­i­cized for not ap­ply­ing more pres­sure on Gen. Mushar­raf, who de­clared a state of emer­gency and sus­pended his coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion. Thou­sands of lawyers, hu­man rights ac­tivists and pro­test­ers have since been ar­rested.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have said they are re­view­ing U.S. aid to Pak­istan, a key ally in the war on ter­ror, but have not threat­ened to cut off sup­port, which has to­taled more than $10 bil­lion since 2001.

Mr. Bush’s re­marks came hours af­ter a top mem­ber of Gen. Mushar­raf’s le­gal team, Ahmed Raza Ka­suri, crit­i­cized the U.S. for telling Pak­istan what to do.

“Do we ask a check­list from the United States, ‘Why did you go to Iraq? Why did you go to Afghanistan?’ ” he said at the Mid­dle East In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton. “The United States, in­stead of dic­ta­tion, they should give us friendly ad­vice.”

Pak­istan is a key strate­gic ally in fight­ing al Qaeda and also pos­sesses nu­clear weapons, a source of U.S. con­cern that Is­lamic rad­i­cals will even­tu­ally take over the coun­try.

Those mil­i­tants now con­trol por­tions of the North-West Fron­tier Prov­ince, where al Qaeda is thought by U.S. intelligence to be plan­ning big ter­ror­ist at­tacks against the U.S. and al­lies in Europe.

Gen. Mushar­raf has also fired most of coun­try’s Supreme Court jus­tices and placed them un­der house ar­rest.

The court had been re­view­ing the le­gal­ity of the Oct. 6 elec­tion that gave Gen. Mushar­raf an­other fiveyear term as pres­i­dent.

Akram Sheikh, for­mer pres­i­dent of Pak­istan’s Supreme Court Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, told The Wash­ing­ton Times in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Islamabad that Pak­ista­nis feel Wash­ing­ton would not likely aban­don Gen. Mushar­raf, de­spite his ac­tions.

“My ab­so­lute feel­ing is that for the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion, democ­racy doesn’t mat­ter,” he said.

That opin­ion was echoed by Gen. Mushar­raf’s at­tor­ney in his Wash­ing­ton speech.

“I think the U.S. is more in­ter­ested in the se­cu­rity of the re­gion than demo­cratic val­ues,” Mr. Ka­suri said.

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