President Bush praised Pakistan’s fight against terrorism as unfaltering but turned down an appeal for the same civilian nuclear help the United States intends to give India, this country’s archrival.
“Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories,” Bush said at a news conference with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Saturday. The White House said that was a diplomatic way of saying no, at least not now.
Bush and Musharraf renewed their war-on-terror alliance in a news conference at the presidential palace, in front of floating pots of flowers in a reflecting pool and quacking ducks. Fears of terrorism brought a tight security clamp and limited Bush’s movements to the palace and the heavily guarded diplomatic compound that houses the U.S. Embassy.
“We’re not going to back down in the face of these killers,” Bush said two days after a suicide car-bombing killed an American diplomat in the southern city of Karachi. “We’ll fight this war and we will win this war together.”
Bush returns to political problems at home
After visiting three nations in South Asia, Bush returned home early Sunday morning to a stack of political problems—from bad approval ratings and embarrassing Hurricane Katrina videos to lingering questions about a domestic surveillance program and the takeover of some American port operations by an Arab company. He departed the country in much the same way he arrived—after dark aboard Air Force One, with its lights off and window shades drawn.
Bush was buoyant about the trip, saying his stops in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan had enhanced U.S. security.
But the journey could cause some headaches for the president. The visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan served as reminders that Osama bin Laden remained at large 4 years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The nuclear assistance deal with India raised questions about rewarding a country that had defied world pleas not to build nuclear weapons, and must be approved by a skeptical Congress.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Indian agreement came up in Bush’s talks with Musharraf but that the time was not right for such a deal with Pakistan. Acknowledging that Pakistan has energy needs, Rice said “we can address energy needs on different terms.”
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 supplied Iran, Libya and North Korea. The government denied any knowledge of his proliferation activities.
Strong anti-American current
Anti-American sentiment runs deep in this Muslim county, inflamed by the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a U.S. missile strike in January in a village in northwestern Pakistan that killed 13 residents. It had been intended to kill al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, but he apparently wasn’t there.
A day after anti-U.S. protests across Pakistan, police detained former cricket star Imran Khan at his Islamabad home and arrested dozens of supporters from his opposition party to block a rally against Bush’s visit. Separately, a group of pro-Taliban militants were killed in fighting near the border with Afghanistan after a military strike on a suspected hide-out.
At the news conference, Bush said America’s partnership with Pakistan “begins with close cooperation in the war on terror.”
Bush said it was imperative to hunt down al-Qaida operatives and suggested Pakistan could do a better job sharing intelligence. “The key thing is that, one, it be actionable, and two, it be shared on a real-time basis.”
“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.
Musharraf indicated Pakistan has had problems translating strategy into action. “If at all there are slippages, it is possible in the implementation part,” he said. But, he said, “We are moving forward toward to delivering, and we will succeed.”
Holding back on criticism
Bush stopped short of criticizing Musharraf’s record on democracy even though the military leader has reneged on a promise to give up his position as army chief, the main source of his power, by the end of 2004.
“We spent a lot of time discussing democracy in Pakistan, and I believe democracy is Pakistan’s future,” Bush said, standing alongside Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup.
Musharraf defended his efforts at democratic reform since taking power, saying Pakistan now had an elected parliament, had empowered women and had given power to local governments.
“Let me assure you that democracy will prevail,” Musharraf said.
He changed the constitution with the backing of parliament to allow him to hold both the presidency and the military post until 2007.
“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.
Highlighting America’s helping hand
Bush sought to show America’s compassionate side by calling attention to the more than $500 million donated to Pakistan after a devastating earthquake in October killed 86,000 people and left more than 2 million homeless.
“It is staggering what the people of this country have been through,” said Bush, who visited with earthquake victims, including orphans, widows, women in wheelchairs and children who lost limbs. “We’re proud to help.”
Bush also talked with Musharraf about complaints that Pakistan isn’t doing enough to stop the infiltration of militants into India and Pakistan. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Khursheed Kasuri, said Pakistan was trying to stop the infiltrators but that it was a big challenge—much as 130,000 U.S. forces are trying to stop violence in Iraq but can’t prevent all the bloodshed.
“Does it mean you are not serious? Of course you are serious. It tells you the level of challenge,” the minister said.