Musharraf Ties Pose Dilemma For Bush

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2007

Even before he walked through the door at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for his first face-to-face meeting with President Bush in 2001, Pervez Musharraf was something of a hero within the administration for his decisive stand against the Taliban and al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Over the course of a dozen private meetings and numerous phone conversations since then, the savvy and well-spoken Pakistani president has made a point of cementing his personal relationship with Bush. Musharraf has regaled the U.S. president with stories of his youth in Punjab, his empathy for rank-and-file soldiers and his desire to reform the education system in Pakistan, according to individuals familiar with those conversations.

"I think [the president] took an instant liking to Musharraf," former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage said. "At a key moment for us, we gave Musharraf a very tough series of choices, and he came down on our side. He is blunt, and Bush likes that."

Bush's personal investment in the Pakistani president, once seen as an asset in the administration's "global war on terror," is now seen as a liability for both leaders in Washington and Pakistan, where Musharraf's assumption of emergency powers and crackdown on opponents have triggered a political crisis in one of the United States' most important allies.

In the two weeks since emergency rule was imposed, Bush has made clear he is standing by Musharraf, offering only muted criticism of his actions and refusing to consider any significant cut in U.S. assistance, which has totaled more than $10 billion since 2001. Bush has described Musharraf as "a strong fighter against extremists and radicals" even as he has urged him to lift the state of emergency and hold elections.

Bush's response to the crisis has been shaped to a great degree by a continuing White House calculation that Musharraf represents its best chance to put Pakistan on a path to democracy and to wage an effective fight against Islamic extremists on its border with Afghanistan. The assessment does not appear to have changed much in the past two weeks, despite deep doubts from outside the administration about whether Musharraf remains capable of achieving either objective, and questions about whether he is truly committed to democracy.

"When Musharraf has made decisions and given his word, as he did after 9/11, he has been true to his word," national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said. "So there is a track record we have with this man."

Wendy J. Chamberlin, who served as ambassador to Pakistan during the critical months after Sept. 11, 2001, said the administration may have been justified in standing by Musharraf -- but not after his recent seizure of emergency powers. "We have to make clear that our relationship is with the people of Pakistan and not with one man, and that he is not indispensable," said Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based policy group.

Bush's close association with Musharraf is somewhat ironic, given that during the 2000 presidential campaign, he could not name the new president of Pakistan -- Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 -- when confronted with an impromptu foreign policy quiz by a Boston television reporter.

But that lack of familiarity quickly disappeared, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks, when senior Bush officials delivered tough messages demanding that Musharraf break with the Taliban and assist U.S. efforts against al-Qaeda. Musharraf wrote in his autobiography that Armitage told the head of Pakistani intelligence that Pakistan should be prepared to be bombed "back to the Stone Age" if it sided with terrorists -- a statement Armitage has categorically denied making.

Several current and former administration officials described Bush as deeply impressed by Musharraf's response to the attacks, particularly his personal courage in the face of assassination attempts by Islamic extremists. Though Musharraf had a mixed record in delivering on promises to Bush, such as extracting information about the nuclear network operated by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, the president appeared to cut him a break on the theory that he was doing the best he could in an extremely dangerous and complicated political environment, the officials said.

"We were asking him to fight extremism, to deal with A.Q. Kahn, national hero, to stick to his commitments on a democratic transition, to reform the economy and to continue diplomatic progress with India," said Michael J. Green, who handled Asia issues for Bush on the National Security Council. "Musharraf made progress on all those fronts, never fully satisfying everyone, but he did make progress."

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