Rice presses Musharraf on Pakistan elections

/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday pressed Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf to ensure that next month's elections are free and fair and urged him to boost counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. and neighboring Afghanistan.

Meeting with Musharraf on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Rice praised him as a steadfast ally in the war on terror whose country would continue to receive substantial U.S. support. But she stressed that he must uphold his stated commitment to democracy.

The meeting was the highest-level, face-to-face U.S. contact with the Pakistani leader since the assassination last month of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, and it comes as Musharraf faces growing discontent at home and the Bush administration fights efforts to curb its backing.

Rice also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also in Davos, to discuss counterterrorism and narcotics issues as well as NATO's role in combating extremists after the alliance has faced recent U.S. criticism.

"NATO is not performing perfectly," Rice said in a speech to the forum. "We are engaged in a real war in Afghanistan. ... This is not just a peacekeeping operation, and the stakes could not be higher for the Afghan people, for our alliance and for our security."

'Wildfire spread of terrorism'
In remarks to the same audience, Karzai warned of the global danger from a "wildfire spread of terrorism" in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Musharraf's meeting with Rice was part of a European tour aimed at reassuring Western leaders about his ability to restore democracy and prevail in the escalating combat between government troops and Taliban rebels along Pakistan's mountainous border with Afghanistan.

Yet many are waiting until Pakistan's Feb. 18 parliamentary elections to determine if Musharraf is serious about democracy following several steps last year, including the imposition of emergency rule, that have placed his commitment into question.