Washington, Sept. 7 (Reuters): The United States has made clear to Gen. Pervez Musharraf its objections to the Pakistani leader’s moves to bolster his power and stressed that President George W. Bush expects free elections, Bush’s national security adviser said.
Condoleezza Rice, speaking ahead of a US visit by the Pakistani leader, dismissed any suggestion that Bush was compromising his democratic principles by keeping close ties with Musharraf, a key ally in the US war against terrorism.
“It’s just frankly not true,” she said in an interview with Reuters. “The President has raised with Musharraf our expectations for elections in October.”
“We made clear to Musharraf that we objected to some of the moves he’s made recently,” she said. Rice took a tougher line than an earlier mild state department rebuke or Bush’s own public comments after Musharraf unveiled constitutional changes last month.
The changes guaranteed a major role for the military in government and imposed a host of obstacles effectively barring the two most popular politicians from elections on October 10.
“There isn’t any compromise in terms of democratic principles here,” Rice said. “The President feels very strongly that democracy is the ultimate guarantor of stability.”
The interview, given in conjunction with White House commemoration of last year’s September 11 attacks, was conducted on Thursday on condition that it not be published until today. The two men are expected to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York next week.
The Pakistani leader hopes that the war on terrorism figures more prominently than his controversial plans, which he says are aimed at eventually returning Pakistan to civilian rule.
“President Musharraf is still tight with us in the war against terror and that’s what I appreciate,” Bush said after the constitutional changes were announced. The amendments allow Musharraf to dissolve parliament at will. Strict eligibility criteria exclude the most serious civilian challengers, including former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, from taking part.
Pakistani authorities detained leaders of five hardline Islamic parties and 200 supporters for several hours today to thwart a plan to hold a major election rally in defiance of a government ban.
The leaders from the six-party Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal alliance were detained at Lahore railway station as they tried to board a train bound for Karachi, where they planned to stage a big rally.