President Bush said Saturday that Pakistan’s president has taken “positive steps” by promising to lift the state of emergency, step down as army chief and hold elections.
Bush continued his administration’s approach to the crisis by refusing to pointedly criticize Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Bush dodged a question about whether Musharraf’s moves, seen by many as an attempt to cling to power, are distracting from the battle against al-Qaida in Pakistan.
“I vowed to the American people to keep the pressure on them (al-Qaida). I fully understand we need cooperation to do so,” Bush said after two days of meetings at his ranch with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. “One country we need cooperation from is Pakistan.”
But, he added, he has confidence in the commitment of Pakistan’s leadership to stick with the U.S. in that fight. “We share a common goal,” Bush said.
He said he still trusts Musharraf, saying the Pakistani leader aligned himself with Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and has not given Bush reason for doubt since. In fact, Bush said, several al-Qaida leaders have been brought to justice “and that wouldn’t have happened without President Musharraf honoring his word.”
“I take a person for his word until otherwise,” Bush said. “He made a clear decision to be with us and he’s acted on that advice.”
The remarks essentially were an endorsement of Musharraf, whose nuclear-armed country remains under the state of emergency he declared a week ago.
Musharraf insists he acted to prevent Islamic extremists from gaining control. But the crackdown has targeted his political, judicial and media critics. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto spent Friday under house arrest.
Hours before Bush’s news conference, Musharraf’s government announced plans to lift the state of emergency within one month and hold parliamentary elections by Feb. 15, one month later than originally scheduled.
U.S. officials are not sure whether Musharraf will remain in power through the crisis.
Bush did cite Bhutto by name. He linked her with Musharraf as someone who understands the necessity of standing firm against extremist elements and expressed confidence that whoever leads Pakistan will feel the same way.
“He fully understands the dangers of al-Qaida,” Bush said. “Benazir Bhutto fully understands the dangers of al-Qaida. By far the vast majority of people in Pakistan want to live in a free and peaceful society, and they understand the dangers of al-Qaida. ... I believe we will continue to have good collaboration with the leadership in Pakistan.”