Bush Urges Musharraf to Hold Elections
Tuesday, November 6, 2007; 1:44 AM
WASHINGTON -- President Bush urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Monday to "restore democracy as quickly as possible," choosing mild disappointment over punishment or more pointed rhetoric to react to the declaration of emergency rule in anti-terror ally Pakistan.
Bush did not speak directly to Musharraf, a leader who took power in a 1999 coup but whom he has previously hailed as a friend he trusts and as a strong defender of freedom. Instead, the president handed that task to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who spoke with the Pakistani leader on the developing crisis for about 20 minutes from her plane en route home from the Middle East.
Bush said he directed Rice to deliver this message: "We expect there to be elections as soon as possible and that the president should remove his military uniform."
They were the president's first public comments on the situation since Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, suspended his country's constitution, ousted the country's top judge, stifled independent media and deployed troops to crush dissent. He called it necessary to prevent a takeover by Islamic extremists.
Bush mixed concern for Musharraf's actions with praise for Pakistan's cooperation in combatting al-Qaida terrorists believed to be rebuilding strongholds on the largely lawless border with Afghanistan.
"President Musharraf has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals," Bush said at the end of an Oval Office meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Even a senior administration official, at a White House briefing, merely called Musharraf "a friend who we think has done something ill-advised." The official spoke on condition of anonymity so he could talk more freely about the behind-the-scenes thoughts of the White House.
Despite billions in U.S. aid to Pakistan since Musharraf declared himself a war-on-terror partner after the 2001 attacks, Bush appeared resigned that the United States has little leverage to influence Musharraf's behavior.
"Our hope now is that he hurry back to elections," Bush said. "All we can do is continue to work with the president as well as others in the Pak government to make it abundantly clear the position of the United States."
Even as Bush spoke, police in Pakistan oversaw a sometimes-violent crackdown on lawyers and others opposing Musharraf's decisions, with hundreds, if not thousands, of arrests. And Musharraf said he would return the country to "the same track as we were moving" but gave no indication when parliamentary elections would take place. They had been scheduled for January.
The Pakistani leader has ignored U.S. requests before, including not following through on repeated promises to relinquish his post as head of Pakistan's army and, most recently, for most of last week when officials up to Rice's level unsuccessfully lobbied Musharraf not to declare a state of emergency.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., warned against being too soft.