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Archive for Monday, November 5, 2007

U.S. disappointed by Pakistan developments, aid to be reviewed

November 5, 2007

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the U.S. will review aid to Pakistan and denied that the Bush administration has "put all its chips" on Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

A leading Democratic senator on foreign affairs said U.S. hands are "pretty well tied right now" because the administration "has a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistani policy."

While Rice's announcement puts in question some of the billions in U.S. assistance to a close terrorism-fighting ally, a Republican lawmaker urged President Bush, silent so far, to speak out "in more specific terms" and suggested that Pakistan's shift from democratic, civilian rule could jeopardize U.S. military support.

On a Mideast trip now overshadowed by the unfolding crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan, Rice indicated the U.S. would not suspend aid wholesale.

The U.S. has provided about $11 billion to Pakistan since 2001, when Musharraf allied his presidency with Washington after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"Some of the aid that goes to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission," Rice told reporters traveling with her. "We just have to review the situation. But I would be very surprised if anyone wants the president to ignore or set aside our concerns about terrorism."

Bush, who has received steady updates on developments in Pakistan, is likely to make his first public comments today. He had not spoken directly with Musharraf as of Sunday afternoon, said Bush's national security spokesman, Gordon Johndroe.

Rice said she had not spoken directly with Musharraf since his announcement Saturday to suspend the constitution, oust the country's top judge and deploy troops to fight what he called rising Islamic extremism. She has decried those "extraconstitutional" moves.

'Difficult position'

The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported in August that less than 10 percent of the U.S. aid total since 2001 has gone to economic and social projects.

Rice cited such assistance, particularly for education, when she told reporters that the U.S. has looked beyond Musharraf and made a choice to support what had seemed to be an increasingly democratic nation at a critical time.

"The United States did not put all its chips on Musharraf," Rice said.

Yet that is precisely what the U.S. under Bush has done, asserted Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"This administration has a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistani policy. It's tied to Musharraf. ... Its hands are pretty well tied right now. And it's put itself in a very difficult position, and in turn us in a difficult position," said Biden, a 2008 presidential candidate.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is visiting China, said today, "We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts."

However, the Pentagon has postponed a meeting scheduled for this week in Islamabad between senior U.S. and Pakistani defense officials.

Scene in Pakistan

On Sunday in Pakistan, police and soldiers emboldened by the state of emergency powers swept up hundreds of activists and opposition members, dragged away protesters shouting "Shame on you!," and turned government buildings into barbed-wire compounds.

Musharraf's government said parliamentary elections could be delayed up to a year as it tries to stamp out a growing Islamic militant threat.

Scores of paramilitary troops blocked access to the Supreme Court and parliament. Streets in the capital appeared largely calm, with only a handful of demonstrations. But one, attended by 40 people at the Marriott Hotel, was broken up by baton-wielding police.

In an address to the nation late Saturday, Musharraf said the growth of a militant Islamic movement and a court system that hindered his powers forced him to declare a state of emergency, despite the urging of Western allies against authoritarian measures.

Less than 24 hours after the order was issued, militants in the Afghan border freed 211 captured Pakistani soldiers in exchange for the army's decision to free 28 insurgents, including some allegedly connected to suicide attacks.

Though they gave no explanation for the decision, it appeared to fly in the face of Musharraf's claims that emergency rule was needed to make sure terrorists - dozens of whom he says have been freed by Pakistani courts - stay off the streets.

Critics say Musharraf, a 1999 coup leader who had promised to give up his army post and become a civilian president this year, imposed emergency rule in a last-ditch attempt to cling to power.

His leadership is threatened by the Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital, the reemergence of political rival and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and an increasingly defiant Supreme Court, which was expected to rule soon on the validity of his recent presidential election win. Hearings scheduled for this week were postponed indefinitely.

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