U.S., Pakistan recommit to war on terror - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

U.S., Pakistan recommit to war on terror

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Posted: Saturday, March 4, 2006 6:19 am | Updated: 4:53 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf recommitted their nations Saturday to the difficult task of hunting down terrorists still hiding here and across the globe.

Bush came to Pakistan - despite terrorist dangers that demanded extraordinary security - to bolster Musharraf, who straddles a delicate political divide in this impoverished but growing Islamic nation.

The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unpopular here, and Pakistan's strong anti-American sentiment was reflected in the thousands who demonstrated across the country against Bush's visit. While there are suspicions that al-Qaida and Taliban operatives maintain some degree of safe sanctuary inside Pakistan, Musharraf has defied criticism he is too cozy with Washington to be a strong U.S. partner in the anti-terrorism campaign.

Bush said his visit convinced him that Musharraf is as committed as ever.

"We will win this fight together," Bush said after more than an hour of private talks with Musharraf. "While we do have a lot of work to be done, it's important that we stay on the hunt."

The United States also sees Musharraf as a leader who favors a more open, moderate and tolerant Pakistan. Standing alongside the Pakistani leader whom Bush calls his "buddy," the U.S. president stopped short of criticizing Musharraf on the pace of democratic advances, only gently calling for elections scheduled for next year to be "open and honest."

Musharraf seized power in a 1999 bloodless coup. Instead of giving up his military uniform as promised in 2004, he changed the constitution so he could hold both his army post and the presidency until 2007.

"I believe democracy is Pakistan's future," Bush said as the leaders stood side-by-side at their outdoor news conference at the marble presidential palace.

Musharraf defended his record on democracy, touting steps to liberalize Pakistan's press, usher in an elected parliament and empower women.

"Beyond 2007, this is an issue that has to be addressed and according to the constitution of Pakistan, and I will never violate the constitution," said the Pakistani leader, repeating similar reassurances made in the past. "Democracy will prevail."

The Pakistani government once supported the repressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But after the 2001 terrorists attacks on America, Musharraf aligned himself with Bush and the war on terrorism.

Pakistan's law enforcement agencies have arrested more than 700 suspected militants in the past four years.

"The intentions of Pakistan and my intentions are absolutely clear - that we have a strong partnership on the issue of fighting terrorism," Musharraf said. "If at all there are slippages, it is possible in the implementation part. ... We are moving forward toward to delivering and we will succeed."

The day before the president arrived, an American diplomat was killed in a suicide car-bombing at a U.S. consulate in the southern city of Karachi, a hotbed of Islamic militancy. Musharraf called it a vicious act timed to coincide with Bush's visit.

Bush said he was unfazed. "We're not going to back down in the face of these killers," he said.

On Saturday, Pakistani police detained Imran Khan, the leader of a small opposition party, ahead of a planned protest. Khan, a respected former Pakistani cricket captain, has condemned Musharraf as an "American slave."

Hoping to broadcast American compassion to the Muslim world, Bush showcased the U.S. assistance offered after an earthquake devastated Pakistan in October, killing 86,000 people and leaving more than 2 million homeless.

"It is staggering what the people of this country have been through," said Bush, who earlier saw a film on the quake and visited with victims, including orphans, widows, women in wheelchairs and children who lost limbs. "We're proud to help."

Musharraf said Pakistan would have been hard-pressed to handle relief operations without U.S. military Chinook helicopters and medical assistance.

Bush was also seeking to heighten ties between the two countries by taking in cricket, a popular sport here.

"Maybe I'll take the bat," he quipped. "I don't know. We'll see. I'm kind of getting old these days."

American and the green-and-white Pakistani flags were posted in honor of Bush's first visit to Pakistan. Streets were mostly empty, aside from the armed security officers standing guard.

On Friday night, Air Force One flew through into the Pakistani capital without lights to conceal the plane's profile as it delivered Bush and his wife, Laura, from India. Layers of security, including three helicopters that circled overhead, shadowed Bush's motorcade as it ferried him from the fortified U.S.. Embassy compound to the presidential palace.

At the grand official building in the heart of Islamabad's government district, Bush was escorted down a red carpet behind raised swords gripped by Pakistani troops in dark green uniforms.

Bush's trip here followed a three-day visit to India where he sealed a civilian nuclear deal with India. Pakistan has asked for the same deal, but Bush made clear that was unlikely, using diplomatic language about the two countries' "different needs and different histories."

Just two years ago Pakistan's leading nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, was exposed as the chief of a lucrative black market in weapons technology that had supplied Iran, Libya and North Korea. Pakistan's government denied any knowledge of his proliferation activities.

But Bush said the United States was committed to helping Pakistan meet its rising energy needs. He expressed no objections to plans by India and Pakistan to build a pipeline to bring much-needed natural gas supplies from Iran, a project that had brought U.S. disapproval. Washington opposes investments that benefit Iran, which it suspects of trying to build nuclear weapons.

"Our beef with Iran is not the pipeline," Bush said. "Our beef with Iran is the fact that they want to develop a nuclear weapon."

Bush was departing for Washington late Saturday after a state dinner. A huge ballroom at the presidential palace was already decked out in the morning for the evening's formality - under 11 brightly lit chandeliers, tables were adorned with orchids draped from candelabra and elaborate crystal stemware.

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