Bush Sees Positive Signs in Pakistan
Sunday, November 11, 2007; 12:35 AM
CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush backed Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Saturday despite the embattled leader's detour off the path of democracy to impose emergency rule and arrest thousands of opponents.
Pakistan was plunged into political turmoil a week ago when Musharraf declared a state of emergency _ a move his critics claim was an attempt to cling to power.
Hours before Bush spoke, Musharraf's government announced plans to lift the state of emergency within one month, release opposition leader Benazir Bhutto from house arrest and hold parliamentary elections by Feb. 15 _ one month later than originally scheduled.
Bush called these "positive steps" _ words that left no doubt the United States remained squarely behind the Pakistani leader in the fight against Islamic militants.
"I take a person for his word until otherwise," Bush said during a news conference at his Texas ranch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Bush, standing in a prairie of tan grasses and cactus, refrained from directly criticizing Musharraf. He said that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Pakistani leader followed through with a pledge to help fight al-Qaida.
"If you're the chief operating officer of al-Qaida, you haven't had a good experience," Bush said. "There has been four or five No. 3s that have been brought to justice one way or the other, and many of those folks thought they could find safe haven in Pakistan. And that would not have happened without President Musharraf honoring his word."
He noted that Musharraf now has promised to lift emergency rule, resign as army chief and hold elections.
"He has declared that he'll take off his uniform, and he has declared there will be elections, which are positive steps," Bush said.
Musharraf insists he called the week-old emergency to help fight Islamic extremists who control swathes of territory near the Afghan border. The main targets of his subsequent crackdown, however, have been his most outspoken critics, including the increasingly independent courts and media. Thousands of people have been arrested, TV news stations taken off air, and judges removed.
In an interview on Friday with The Dallas Morning News, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Musharraf a "reasonable man" who made a poor political decision.
"We think this was a bad decision. Full stop. A bad decision," Rice said. "I don't have any doubt that he is somebody who tries to have the best interests of his country at heart."