bush 224.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
US President Bush urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Monday to "restore democracy as quickly as possible," choosing mild disappointment over punishment or more pointed rhetoric to react to the declaration of emergency rule in anti-terror ally Pakistan.
Bush did not speak directly to Musharraf, a leader who took power in a 1999 coup but whom he has previously hailed as a friend he trusts and as a strong defender of freedom. Instead, the president handed that task to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who spoke with the Pakistani leader on the developing crisis for about 20 minutes from her plane en route home from the Middle East.
Bush said he directed Rice to deliver this message: "We expect there to be elections as soon as possible and that the president should remove his military uniform."
They were the president's first public comments on the situation since Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, suspended his country's constitution, ousted the country's top judge, stifled independent media and deployed troops to crush dissent. He called it necessary to prevent a takeover by Islamic extremists.
Bush mixed concern for Musharraf's actions with praise for Pakistan's cooperation in combatting al-Qaida terrorists believed to be rebuilding strongholds on the largely lawless border with Afghanistan.
"President Musharraf has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals," Bush said at the end of an Oval Office meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Even a senior administration official, at a White House briefing, merely called Musharraf "a friend who we think has done something ill-advised." The official spoke on condition of anonymity so he could talk more freely about the behind-the-scenes thoughts of the White House.
Despite billions in US aid to Pakistan since Musharraf declared himself a war-on-terror partner after the 2001 attacks, Bush appeared resigned that the United States has little leverage to influence Musharraf's behavior.
"Our hope now is that he hurry back to elections," Bush said. "All we can do is continue to work with the president as well as others in the Pak government to make it abundantly clear the position of the United States."
Even as Bush spoke, police in Pakistan oversaw a sometimes-violent crackdown on lawyers and others opposing Musharraf's decisions, with hundreds, if not thousands, of arrests. And Musharraf said he would return the country to "the same track as we were moving" but gave no indication when parliamentary elections would take place. They had been scheduled for January.
The Pakistani leader has ignored US requests before, including not following through on repeated promises to relinquish his post as head of Pakistan's army and, most recently, for most of last week when officials up to Rice's level unsuccessfully lobbied Musharraf not to declare a state of emergency.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., warned against being too soft.
"Pakistan will only be a reliable and capable ally against terrorism when its government is not seen as an enemy by its own people," she said.
But Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, warned against being too hasty with rebukes. "As politics in Pakistan continue evolving, we should not rush to abandon Musharraf but work with him to get Pakistan back on the path toward democracy," he said.
The White House said it is reviewing US assistance to Pakistan in light of the developments. Such aid has amounted to $9.6 billion dollars since 2001, not including another $800 million the administration is requesting from Congress for the current budget year.
Bush would not discuss any consequences if Musharraf fails to reverse course. "It's a hypothetical," he said.
But top officials suggested the money for the war on terrorism - the large majority of the aid - is unlikely to be at risk.
"I think we're looking at all forms of assistance in terms of what requirements there may be in terms of action," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters during a visit to Beijing. "We also want to be mindful of the fact that Pakistan continues to be an extremely important ally in the war on terror, so we have an interest in an ongoing security relationship."
At the White House briefing, the senior official said the administration was focusing its review on exploring whether any of Musharraf's actions trigger automatic aid cuts or suspensions, as required by the laws governing US foreign assistance.
The official said the administration is encouraged by some indications that Musharraf intends for elections to happen on about the same timetable as planned. But the official said Washington is waiting for clarification, which could take weeks.
"The question is: What do you do when someone makes that mistake that is a close ally?" the official said. "You know, do you cut him off, hit him with sanctions, walk out the door? Or do you try and see if you can work them to get them back on track?"