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Politics

After building a friendship, Bush stands by Musharraf

By Washington Post
Published November 18, 2007


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WASHINGTON - Even before he walked through the door at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for his first face-to-face meeting with President Bush in 2001, Pervez Musharraf was something of a hero within the administration for his decisive stand against the Taliban and al-Qaida after the Sept. 11terrorist attacks.

Over the course of a dozen private meetings and numerous phone conversations since then, the savvy and well-spoken Pakistani president has made a point of cementing his personal relationship with Bush. Musharraf has regaled the U.S. president with stories of his youth in Punjab, his empathy for rank-and-file soldiers, and his desire to reform the education system in Pakistan, according to individuals familiar with those conversations.

"I think (the president) took an instant liking to Musharraf," former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said. "At a key moment for us, we gave Musharraf a very tough series of choices, and he came down on our side. He is blunt, and Bush likes that."

Bush's personal investment in the Pakistani president, once seen as an asset in the administration's "global war on terror," is now seen as a liability for both leaders in Washington and Pakistan, where Musharraf's assumption of emergency powers and crackdown on opponents have triggered a political crisis in one of the United States' most important allies.

In the two weeks since the crisis began, Bush has made clear he is standing by Musharraf, offering only muted criticism of his actions and refusing to consider any significant cut in U.S. assistance, which has totaled more than $10-billion since 2001. Bush has described Musharraf as "a strong fighter against extremists and radicals" even as he has urged him to lift the state of emergency and hold elections.

Bush's response to the crisis has been shaped to a great degree by a continuing White House calculation that Musharraf represents their best chance to put Pakistan on a path to democracy and to wage an effective fight against Islamic extremists on its border with Afghanistan. The assessment does not appear to have changed much in the last two weeks, despite deep doubts from outside the administration that Musharraf remains capable of achieving either objective.

"When Musharraf has made decisions and given his word, as he did after 9/11, he has been true to his word," national security adviser Stephen Hadley said. "So there is a track record we have with this man."

Wendy Chamberlin, who served as ambassador to Pakistan during the critical months after Sept. 11, said the administration may have been justified in standing by Musharraf - but not after his recent seizure of emergency powers. "We have to make clear that our relationship is with the people of Pakistan and not with one man, and that he is not indispensable," said Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute, a think tank.

Bush, who in the 2000 presidential campaigncould not name the new president of Pakistan, quickly became familiar with Musharrafafter Sept. 11, when senior Bush officials delivered tough messages demanding that Musharraf break with the Taliban and assist U.S. efforts against al-Qaida.

Musharraf refuses to say when emergency will end

Continuing to defy the United States, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf declined to tell a senior American envoy on Saturday when he would lift a two-week-old state of emergency, Pakistani and western officials said. In a two-hour, face-to-face meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte - who had been expected to urge the president to end the emergency - Musharraf said he would do so when security improves in the country. Negroponte is the United States' second highest ranking diplomat.

-Mushahid Hussain, secretary-general of the main political party backing Musharraf, called for an end to the emergency on Saturday, saying that ending the state of emergency would cause "less tension, less political conflict and less polarization."

Army masses for assault on militants

About 15,000 Pakistani troops have massed for a major assault on Islamic militants in the scenic Swat Valley in the north, the army said Saturday. Pakistani troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery were attacking militants to push them back into the mountains overlooking the Karakoram Highway, Pakistan's vital overland route to China. Between 35 and 40 rebels were killed in that push on Friday, it said in a statement. That raised the number of militants killed this week to over 100, according to army reports.

Fast facts

Musharraf defiant on crackdown

Continuing to defy the United States, the president of Pakistan,Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declined to tell a senior American envoy on Saturday when he would lift a two-week-old state of emergency, Pakistani and Western officials said. In a two-hour, face-to-face meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte - who had been expected to urge the president to end the emergency - Musharraf said he would do so when security improves in the country. Negroponte is the United States' second-highest ranking diplomat.

Call for change:Mushahid Hussain, secretary-general of the main political party backing Musharraf, called for an end to the emergency on Saturday, saying that ending the state of emergency would cause "less tension, less political conflict and less polarization."

Army masses for assault on militants

About 15,000 Pakistani troops have massed for a major assault on Islamic militants in the scenic Swat Valley in the north, the army said Saturday. Pakistani troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery were attacking militants to push them back into the mountains overlooking the Karakoram Highway, Pakistan's vital overland route to China. Between 35 and 40 rebels were killed in that push on Friday, the army said in a statement. That raised the number of militants killed this week to more than 100, according to army reports.

[Last modified November 18, 2007, 02:11:12]


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