Bush Praises Musharraf's Anti-Terrorism Stance
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Debbie Elliott.
President Bush has completed his diplomatic tour or South Asia. He spent the final day meeting with Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, and during his weekly radio address today, he had praise for the U.S. ally.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: After September the 11th, 2001, President Musharraf understood that he had to make a fundamental choice. He could turn a blind eye and leave his people hostage to the terrorists or he join the free world in fighting the terrorists. President Musharraf made the right choice for his people and America appreciates his leadership.
ELLIOTT: This week Musharraf's troops attacked a suspected al-Qaida camp along the Afghanistan border, leading to deadly clashes with Taliban supporters that continued today. A Pakistani army spokesman says at least 49 more people were killed. Here to talk with us about President Bush's visit with Musharraf is Graham Usher, a journalist based in Islamabad. Hello there.
Mr. GRAHAM USHER (Journalist in Islamabad): Hi. Hello.
ELLIOTT: Can you tell us what the scene was earlier today in Pakistan when President Musharraf was meeting with President Bush?
Mr. USHER: Well, certainly the scene in Islamabad where Bush was staying was of a massive, absolutely massive security presence. Whole areas of the city were cordoned off. So most of the city had a kind of eerie, deserted feel to it. There had been, supposedly, demonstrations taking place in protest of the visit of George Bush, but there'd been quite a massive arrest sweep earlier in the morning preventing that.
ELLIOTT: This meeting comes at a time when President Musharraf has been facing growing opposition in Pakistan. Even his Islamic base has been calling for him to step down. Was the purpose of President Bush's visit just to show solidarity?
Mr. USHER: I think that was one of the purposes. Basically, Bush came and his main message at the press conference was that he saw President Musharraf as the committed ally in the war on terrorism. He praised him, but he did say that more could be done and the reason that he said that is because this week we had reports from the Afghan intelligence services that the majority of the attacks that happen in Afghanistan today are originated in Pakistan.
ELLIOTT: What has Musharraf done to stop the flow of terrorists along the border with Afghanistan.
Mr. USHER: Well, Musharraf would say that he's done quite a lot and I think Bush would agree with him. Since 9-11, when Musharraf effectively joined the war on terrorism, he has cut off supplies from his army and intelligence services to Taliban. He was quite a pivotal figure in isolating the Taliban and he has gone after al-Qaida suspects. What he hasn't been so vigorous at doing is cracking down on organizations within Pakistan. Islamic Pakistan organizations, some of which are banned formally by the government, but operate quite openly.
ELLIOTT: This is a military regime that we're talking about and President Bush has stated over and over again that his mission is to spread democracy in the Muslim world. Did he address that issue at all during his visit to Pakistan?
Mr. USHER: Yes, in the press conference today he said that he was convinced that President Musharraf was going to hold general elections next year, as he has committed to do. But he made no call for Musharraf to end his current dual role of being simultaneous President of the country and the Army Chief of Staff. Now this is a demand of all of the Pakistani parties. They basically said you cannot talk about a democracy when the President is beholden to the army before he's beholden to Parliament or a Cabinet government.
And Bush basically didn't mention this. So in not mentioning it, I think it will be read in Pakistan that the Bush Administration, at least, is quite happy with the current set-up of a military regime, essentially, that masquerades as a democracy.
ELLIOTT: President Bush is not exactly popular among the Pakistani people. What did Musharaff have to gain from appearing with President Bush in this meeting?
Mr. USHER: Well, I think what he had to gain is basically his main claim to fame, if you like, and that is by going with America after 9-11, he restored Pakistan's international status. He restored it from a reputation of being basically a rogue state.
In exchange for that, he has got economic dividends from the Americans. America offered an aid program of some three billion dollars spread over a number of years after 9-11. It also rescheduled Pakistan's national debt. So the fact that Bush came, the fact that Bush patted him on the back, the fact that he said he is a staunch ally in the war on terror is I think Musharraf's way of saying that I am absolutely strategically important to Pakistan, even if large swathes of Pakistan opinion is against him.
As far as the army is concerned, which is the main bastion of power, really, in Pakistan, it is important to have this relationship with America and Musharraf has done that.
ELLIOTT: Is Musharraf's government stable?
Mr. USHER: I think it's stable at the moment but it's becoming more unstable, and I think the reason for that is that up until 2004, you had this marriage of convenience with the Islamic parties whereby he would give them more power domestically in exchange for quiet from them in his foreign policy. Now that alliance has basically broken apart over the last year or so and we've seen it particularly rupture in the last few months. We have had quite major street demonstrations organized by the Islamic parties, ostensibly as protests against the cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed, but increasingly taking on an anti- Musharraf temper.
And now we have Islamic leaders, quite prominent ones, openly calling for the removal of Musharraf, calling for the restoration of civilian government, and calling for the army to get out of politics. And because Musharraf doesn't have any relation with the main civilian secular parties, he basically has a situation at the moment where all the main political parties in Pakistan, whether they're religious or secular, are opposed to his rule. At the moment, because he has the Army backing him, he can survive. But this situation cannot continue indefinitely.
ELLIOTT: Graham Usher is a journalist based in Islamabad. Thank you for speaking with us.
Mr. USHER: Thank you.
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