February 24, 2008

US to do business with Musharraf, says Rice

Filed under: POST-ELECTIONS 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 12:31 am
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FEB 24, 2008

WASHINGTON – As the United States intensified its attempts to preserve President Pervez Musharraf’s dwindling power, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that the Bush administration would continue to deal with him as president.
“How they arrange their coalition is really a Pakistani affair,” she said at a Press conference in Washington on the eve of her departure on a three-nation tour of South Korea, China and Japan.
Several American newspapers reported Saturday that US diplomats have turned up the pressure on the main victors of elections to reach an accommodation with the retired general, portraying him as ‘chief US ally’. The administration, it is pointed out, has invested $10 billion in foreign and military aid to Musharraf’s government since 2001, much of it to encourage Pakistani counter-insurgency efforts.
The Wall Street Journal said that the Bush administration is at odds with the new leaders signalling a ‘softer approach’ in confronting Islamic militants while the US wants ‘stronger measures’.
The newspaper said key officials in Pakistan’s two main opposition parties – the Pakistan People’s Party, led by Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, and the Pakistan Muslim League-N of Nawaz Sharif – say that they want instead to open talks with the Islamic militants operating along border with Afghanistan.
“We will use force wherever it is necessary, but will also use other means to veer them away from extremism,” Zardari was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Secretary Rice gave full marks to President Musharraf for holding free and fair elections, telling reporters that the US would continue to keep in touch with him and pursue its interests for a stable and democratic Pakistan.
“It was many, many months ago that I stood next to the Foreign Minister of Pakistan during a visit there and said there need to be free and fair elections in Pakistan,” she said.
“And we have had exactly that message and hammered home that message since that day. That was the message that we gave to President Musharraf – lift the state of emergency, take off the uniform, and guide your country towards free and fair elections,” she said in response to a query. “I believe he has done exactly that.”
The elections, she said, “Were elections that I think instil some confidence in the Pakistani people that this was an outcome that moves them closer, further down the road back to not just civilian government, but to a democratic civilian government that is more broadly based. That is, to my mind, the best possible outcome, which is that the Pakistani people now have a chance for civilian government that is broadly based.”
Rice said that it was up to Pakistanis to organise their government. “The President of Pakistan is Pervez Musharraf… And so, of course, we will deal with him. We will continue to pursue the American interests, which are for a stable and democratic Pakistan.”
“That’s why our programmes have been also not just about counter-terrorism, but also on education and also on women’s empowerment, and all of the elements of support for Pakistani social and economic progress that we’ve had,” Rice said.
“It’s also, though, in our interest to have a sustained and very robust counter-terrorism effort…counter-terrorism effort is also in the interests of the Pakistan people, who watched one of their great political leaders (Benazir Bhutto) assassinated by extremists,” she maintained.
Rice said, “We and the Pakistani people have a common agenda here. They have made their voices known. The United States is very proud for them, that they have made their voices known in this way, and we’re going to pursue relations with Pakistan with our interests in mind, the way that we would with any other country that we believe is making progress toward a more democratic future.”
On Wednesday, President Bush, travelling in Africa, telephoned Musharraf, whom he has described as a friend and ally.
Musharraf, for his part, made clear his reliance on American help by appealing for continued US support in an op-ed article published Friday in the Washington Post.
The Los Angeles Times wrote Saturday, “Even after Zardari and Sharif announced Thursday that their parties would form a coalition, US officials and analysts in both countries pointed to uncertainty over the final power structure.
“US officials privately acknowledge that there are questions about how eager the new government will be to continue the counter-insurgency mission. The officials are wary of Sharif because of what they believe are ties to extremist groups, though supporters insist that he has none. And although Zardari has proclaimed that Pakistan must fight terrorism, he is expected to focus more on domestic issues.”


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