CRAWFORD, Tex. – President Bush and his senior advisers offered perhaps their most extensive defense Saturday of Gen. Pervez Musharraf as an ally in the battle against Islamic extremists a week after the Pakistani president declared emergency powers and began a crackdown on human rights activists, lawyers and journalists.
Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made clear their continuing desire for Musharraf to hold elections and resign from the Pakistani army, with Rice bluntly calling his seizure of emergency powers a “bad decision.”
But they mixed criticism with sympathy for what they termed his past efforts to cultivate democracy and help the United States go after al-Qaida leaders in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“President Musharraf, right after the attacks on September the 11th, made a decision, and the decision was to stand with the United States against the extremists inside Pakistan,” Bush told reporters here after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “In other words, he was given an option: Are you with us, or are you not with us? And he made a clear decision to be with us, and he’s acted on that advice.”
Bush noted that several senior al-Qaida leaders “have been brought to justice” and “that would not have happened without President Musharraf honoring his word.”
The comments on Pakistan from Bush, Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on Saturday underscored that the administration does not appear willing to risk a break with Musharraf over his actions thus far, as troubling as they may be.
Musharraf said last week that he plans to go ahead with parliamentary elections in February.
Yet he has also dismissed many of the country’s judges, curbed the media, rounded up opposition figures and generally sought to smash elements of Pakistan’s civil society.