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PAKISTAN Bush reassured on terror fight


Published: Sat, March 4, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


Pakistan's prime minister told Bush he remains an ally, despite 'slippages.'
COMBINED DISPATCHES
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- President Bush wrapped up his South Asia tour Saturday and headed home with a major diplomatic accomplishment and some reminders that consistency is sometimes the hobgoblin of foreign policy.
At his final stop, the president told Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that his country shouldn't expect a civilian nuclear power deal like the one Bush reached with archrival India, and he praised Pakistan's halting steps toward democracy only hours after police rounded up opposition leaders and anti-Bush demonstrators.
"Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories," Bush told reporters after discussing the nuclear issue with Musharraf behind closed doors.
The president has made promoting democracy and fighting terrorism the dual centerpieces of his foreign policy. But his ability to pressure Musharraf on those fronts is limited because Pakistan is central to efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons and Islamic extremism, hopes for stabilizing Afghanistan and the war on terrorism.
Assurances on alliance
Musharraf assured Bush that Pakistan remains a stalwart ally in the war on terror, despite what he called some "slippages" on the battlefront.
"Part of my mission today was to determine whether or not the president is as committed as he has been in the past to bringing these terrorists to justice, and he is," Bush said with Musharraf at his side. "He understands the stakes."
The two leaders didn't mention Osama bin Laden during their joint public appearance Saturday. The Al-Qaida leader's ability to evade capture has been one of the biggest disappointments in the anti-terror effort. U.S. officials also want Pakistan to do more to root out holdovers from Afghanistan's former Taliban regime who use Pakistan as a base for cross-border attacks against the new U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Similarly, Bush appeared careful to balance his enthusiasm for democracy with a recognition that if Pakistan is the indispensable nation, Musharraf, an army general who seized power in a 1999 military coup, is its indispensable man.
Stressed democracy
If Bush pressed Musharraf toward greater openness, he did so in private. In public, he said: "We spent a lot of time talking about democracy in Pakistan. We share a strong commitment to democracy."
Musharraf bristled at suggestions that he is moving too slowly toward democracy. He said he's "introduced the essence of democracy" by supporting a free press, empowering women and ethnic minorities, and giving local governments control of local affairs.
Opposition leaders said the detentions of opposition leaders early Saturday showed Musharraf's dictatorial leanings and called into question Bush's commitment to democracy.
"He's coming here to strengthen a military regime that claims it is establishing democracy," said opposition leader Imran Khan, a former international cricket star and member of parliament, who was placed under house arrest to prevent him from leading a protest march against Bush and Musharraf near Islamabad. "Who is he trying to fool?"


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