| George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf set off to address the joint news conference at Camp David. (AFP)
Washington, June 24: George W. Bush today refused Pervez Musharraf’s request for F-16 planes, but publicly praised Pakistan’s President for not being “afraid” to bring up the issue of the 28 aircraft, which Pakistan once paid for in full.
The refusal is, however, cold comfort for India. Half of a $3- billion package which Bush announced at a joint news conference with the Pakistani general will go for military supplies.
Musharraf also bagged a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the US, which, the general claimed at the press conference, is a precursor to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). If it, indeed, turns out to be so, it would be a major gain for Pakistan. An FTA with India has been talked about for almost three years, but has made no progress.
In direct negation of India's portrayal of Pakistan as an epicentre of terrorism, Bush praised Musharraf for capturing more than 500 terrorists and handing them over to the US. He said Pakistan, like the US, is a victim of global terrorism.
“President Musharraf is a courageous leader, and a friend of the United States. America has a strong relationship with Pakistan. Pakistan’s support was essential in our campaign against the Taliban,” Bush said.
The effusive welcome for Musharraf in an oak-shaded log cabin at Camp David, the presidential retreat which nestles in the Catoctin mountains in Maryland, near Washington, hid simmering tensions in Washington’s relations with the junta which rules Islamabad.
America desperately needs Pakistan and Bush acknowledged it in so many words in the context of the war against al Qaida. But the White House is also worried that Musharraf and his government are duplicitous in their fight against Islamic extremism.
Musharraf today tried to allay some of those suspicions when he told reporters at Camp David that his army and police were hunting for terrorists in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the country, where no government forces had entered for over a century.
Osama bin Laden is widely believed to be hiding in FATA and crossing the border with Afghanistan. “The possibility of his, maybe, shifting sides on the border is very much there,” Musharraf said in an effort to raise his worth with the White House in America’s hunt for bin Laden.
Bush said it could take days, months or years before the US and its allies complete the search for the al Qaida leadership. “We’re just on the hunt. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, Mr President,” Bush said, nodding to Musharraf.
Bush acknowledged that he and Musharraf spent “a lot of time” discussing India, clearly in the context of the F-16s, India's arms purchases and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s recent peace initiative.
But Bush made it clear that the decision-makers on a settlement in South Asia, including Kashmir, were the leaders of India and Pakistan, notwithstanding Musharraf’s praise for Bush for his “untiring efforts” to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table. Bush said: “We discussed the need to address extremism and cross-border infiltration”.
The disagreements between the US and Pakistan also surfaced when Bush said in his opening statement that realisation of Musharraf’s “vision of moderation and progress will require movement toward democracy in Pakistan....This country is committed to democracy, and we are committed to freedom”.
It was clear that Musharraf had come under pressure from Bush to accommodate political elements in Pakistan’s scheme of things when Musharraf acknowledged in his reply that today’s summit had agreed on “close interaction between the parliaments of the two countries to promote the cause of democracy”.