Bush has ‘frank discussion’ on elections with Pakistani leader
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.