Bush ‘Taken Aback’ by Musharraf Comment

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The New York Sun

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush said Friday he was “taken aback” by a purported American threat to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if it did not cooperate in the fight against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

He praised President Musharraf for being one of the first foreign leaders to come out after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to stand with America to “help root out an enemy.”

At a joint White House news conference, Mr. Musharraf said a peace treaty between his government and tribes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is not meant to support the Taliban.

He said news reports had mischaracterized the deals. “The deal is not at all with the Taliban. This deal is against the Taliban. This deal is with the tribal elders,” Mr. Musharraf said.

Said Mr. Bush: “I believe him.”

He said that Mr. Musharraf had looked him in the eye and vowed that “the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people and that there won’t be a Taliban and there won’t be al-Aqaida (in Pakistan).”

In an interview to air Sunday on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” program, Mr. Musharraf said that after the attacks, Richard Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, told Pakistan’s intelligence director that America would bomb his country if it didn’t help fight terrorists.

He said that Mr. Armitage had told him, “Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.”

Mr. Armitage has disputed the language attributed to him but did not deny the message was a strong one.

The former senior official told Associated Press Radio on Friday: “There was no military threat and I was not authorized to do so.”

“It did not happen,” Mr. Armitage said.

He said he had a State Department cable of his conversation with the intelligence chief read to him Friday “and there was, in no way, that threat.”

“It was a strong, straightforward conversation,” Mr. Armitage said. He said he intended to communicate to the Pakistani official the feelings of Americans about being attacked.

Mr. Armitage said he called on Mr. Musharraf on Thursday and had trust in him.

Asked about the report, Mr. Bush said, “The first I heard of this is when I read it in the newspaper. I guess I was taken aback by the harshness of the words.”

For his part, Mr. Musharraf declined to comment and cited a contract agreement with a publisher on an upcoming book. However, he told CBS the Stone Age warning “was a very rude remark.”

Mr. Bush has repeatedly praised Pakistan for arresting hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives inside its borders. Pakistan is the world’s second-biggest Islamic country, with a population of 160 million.

But America has also urged Pakistan to do more to stop militants from crossing from its tribal regions into Afghanistan, where Taliban-fanned violence has reached its deadliest proportions since the American-led invasion that toppled the hard-line regime.

Pakistan earlier this month signed a truce with tribal figures. Afghanistan has protested that the militants are linked to the Taliban, the militant Islamic group that once ruled Afghanistan until driven from power in 2001.

But both Mr. Bush and Mr. Musharraf shrugged off such links and said they were united in pursuing terrorists, especially Osama bin Laden.

“When we find Osama bin Laden, he will be brought to justice. We are on the hunt together,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Musharraf echoed him. “We are in the hunt together against these people,” the Pakistani leader said.

Mr. Bush will have talks Tuesday with President Karzai. Then, he’ll have a three-way sitdown with both leaders at the White House on Wednesday.

Mr. Bush must work to placate the concerns of Pakistan, a chief ally in the war on terror, as well as the struggling democratic government in Afghanistan, which is suffering its heaviest insurgent attacks since American-led troops toppled the Taliban in late 2001.

Meanwhile, Mr. Musharraf reported progress toward resolving the dispute between India and Pakistan over the shared Himalayan region of Kashmir. The Pakistani leader cited progress in recent talks with Prime Minister Singh.

“We are moving on the Kashmir dispute,” Mr. Musharraf said.

Mr. Bush seemed pleased. “I’m impressed by this president’s will to get something done in Kashmir,” he said.

Pressed on how America might help, Mr. Bush said: “The Kashmir issue will be solved when two leaders decide to solve it, and we want to help. The United States can’t force nations to reach an agreement just because we want there to be an agreement.”

Earlier Friday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said he didn’t know the specifics of what Mr. Armitage might have said to the Pakistanis.

“But we have made very clear that we went straight to President Musharraf in the days after 9/11 and said it’s time to make a choice: Are you going to side with the civilized world or are you going to side with the Taliban and al-Qaida,” Mr. Bartlett told CBS’ “The Early Show.”

White House press secretary Tony Snow that he didn’t know what Armitage said. Armitage no longer is in the administration.

“Mr. Armitage has said that he made no such representations,” Mr. Snow said. “I don’t know. This could have been a classic failure to communicate. I just don’t know.”

“U.S. policy was not to issue bombing threats,” Mr. Snow said. “U.S. policy was to say to President Musharraf, `We need you to make a choice’.”

In his meeting with Mr. Musharraf, Mr. Bush played middle man in a thorny foreign policy problem that has bubbled up between Islamabad and Afghanistan – two American allies in the war on terrorism who accuse each other of not doing enough to crack down on extremists.

Afghan officials have alleged repeatedly that Taliban militants are hiding out in neighboring Pakistan and launching attacks across the border into Afghanistan. Pakistan, which has deployed 80,000 troops along the border, rejects the accusation and says it’s doing all it can to battle extremists.

During Mr. Musharraf’s visit, human rights activists are asking Mr. Bush to press Mr. Musharraf to restore civilian rule in Pakistan, end discrimination of women, and stop using torture and arbitrary detention in counterterrorism operations. Mr. Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup. Instead of giving up his military uniform in 2004 as promised, he changed the constitution so he could hold both his army post and the presidency until 2007.

The New York Sun

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