Musharraf's Comments Rattle Pakistanis

The Associated Press
Friday, September 22, 2006; 11:01 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A report that the United States purportedly threatened military action against Pakistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks drew a sharp response and some protest in Pakistan Friday.

A spokesman for Pakistan's largest hard-line Islamic group predicted the issue would further enrage ordinary Pakistanis, who have long believed that they were forced "at gunpoint" into supporting the war on terror.

"The temperature and anger will rise among Pakistanis because they will see that the Americans do not want dialogue or communication, but are instead exploiting a situation and compelling (Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez) Musharraf to support them," said Ameer ul-Azeem, of the opposition Islamic coalition Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, also called MMA.

Some 500 MMA supporters protesting in Islamabad on Friday against the pope's recent remarks on Islam also condemned Musharraf for not standing up to the United States following the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Musharraf has sold his conscience, he has laid down under (President) Bush, he has stabbed Afghanistan in the back," said Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, a senior MMA leader.

Musharraf said that after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Richard Armitage, the former American deputy secretary of state, warned Pakistan's intelligence chief that U.S. forces could bomb Pakistan if it did not switch support from the pro-al-Qaida Taliban regime in Afghanistan to the U.S.-led war on terror.

"The intelligence director told me that (Armitage) said, 'Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,'" Musharraf told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview to air Sunday.

Musharraf said he reacted responsibly. "One has to think and take actions in the interests of the nation and that is what I did."

But he added: "I thought it was a very rude remark."

Armitage has said he never threatened to bomb Pakistan but that he delivered a tough message to the Muslim nation that it was either "with us or against us."

"These comments only expose how tenuous and fragile Pakistan's relationship is with the United States," Pakistani analyst and retired army Gen. Talat Masood said Friday. "They prove a lot more has to be done to establish a relationship on a much more solid foundation."

Bush said during a press conference with Musharraf on Friday that he was "taken aback" by Armitage's purported threat, saying the Pakistani leader's comments were the first he had heard of the warning.

Bush said Musharraf was "one of the first leaders" to offer his country's support to the war on terrorism. But the United States has also said Pakistan can do more to prevent militants crossing from its tribal regions into Afghanistan.

© 2006 The Associated Press