View Full Version : Bush Trusts Musharraf?

23 Sep 06,, 21:54
Musharraf Defends Deal With Tribal Leaders

Published: September 23, 2006

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 — President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan tried to convince President Bush on Friday that a deal he approved with tribal leaders in one of the country’s most lawless border areas would rid the areas of Qaeda and Taliban influence, rather than give the groups more freedom to operate.

President George W. Bush and Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, answered questions in the White House on Friday.

Mr. Bush and his national security aides were clearly skeptical, according to administration officials, but at a news conference, Mr. Bush appeared to take General Musharraf’s assurances at face value. General Musharraf knew that there were enough questions in the air about the accord that he felt compelled to explain that “this deal is not at all with the Taliban; as I said, this is against the Taliban, actually.”

At the heart of the discussion in the Oval Office was a fear among American officials that General Musharraf, whose political hold over sections of his own country is tenuous at best, is only episodically engaged in the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

That has been an increasingly contentious issue between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Afghan leaders complaining that many of the attacks launched against Afghan targets are originating from Pakistan’s side of the border.

General Musharraf’s visit marked the fifth anniversary of the radical change in Washington’s relationship with Islamabad after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but the uneasiness of the alliance created from those events was on full display today.

General Musharraf, who has a book coming out on Monday, told “60 Minutes,” in an interview to be broadcast this weekend on CBS, that Richard L. Armitage, then the deputy secretary of state, had threatened Pakistan’s intelligence chief in September 2001 that the consequences of failing to side with the United States would be huge. General Musharraf quoted the intelligence chief as recalling Mr. Armitage as saying: “Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.”

But Mr. Armitage said Friday that he had never made such a threat, and that he was not authorized to make any threats during that meeting. “I never made a threat in my life that I couldn’t back up,” he said on CNN. “Since I wasn’t authorized to say such a thing, hence, I couldn’t back up that threat.”

When asked about the issue at the East Room news conference, General Musharraf refused to answer the question — not on national security grounds, but on the grounds that it would violate his book contract. “I am launching my book on the 25th, and I am honor-bound to Simon & Schuster not to comment on the book before that day,” he said.

After laughter subsided, Mr. Bush said, “In other words, buy the book.”

But Mr. Bush also said that he “was taken aback by the harshness of the words” of the threat, and that he doubted that events unfolded that way. He said he recalled that General Musharraf was “one of the first leaders to step up and say that the stakes have changed.”

Mr. Armitage did recall telling Pakistan’s leaders that they had to make a choice between supporting the Taliban and supporting the United States, which was clearly headed into conflict with the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan. But five years later, the loyalties of the tribal leaders in North Waziristan are divided, with many of the tribesmen allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

That subject took up much of the time between the leaders today. General Musharraf said the agreement had “three bottom lines.” He said one was “no Al Qaeda activities in our tribal agencies or across the border in Afghanistan.” The second was “no Taliban activity” in the same areas. And the third was “no Talibanization,’’ which he described as “obscurantist thoughts or way of life.”

It is unclear how General Musharraf can enforce such edicts, however, or even whether Pakistani government forces could go into the tribal areas to hunt down Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda leader. Tony Snow, President Bush’s spokesman, said after the news conference that he did not believe that the discussion went into that level of detail, though the scope of Islamabad’s authority to send forces into the area is a crucial point of concern at the White House.

“He made it clear he is serious about going after the Taliban,” Mr. Snow said.

That is also a central concern of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, who is supposed to have dinner with General Musharraf and Mr. Bush at the White House next week.

In a meeting with reporters and editors of The New York Times on Thursday, Mr. Karzai said his government had provided Pakistan with “information on training grounds, on operations, people, their phone numbers, their GPS locations,” in an effort to rout out Taliban forces.

“Our friends come back to us and say this information is old,” he said. “Maybe. But it means they were there.”

Mr. Bush and General Musharraf stepped around the question of whether American forces or intelligence agencies had the right to go into Pakistan to hunt down Mr. bin Laden. General Musharraf has bristled at the idea before, largely because of the unpopularity of giving American forces the right to operate inside Pakistan’s borders.

On Friday, Mr. Bush fudged the issue by saying, “We’re on the hunt together.”

On Thursday, asked if he knew the whereabouts of Mr. bin Laden, Mr. Karzai smiled and said: “If I said he was in Pakistan, President Musharraf would be mad at me. And if I said he was in Afghanistan, it would not be true.”
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