For Washington, Musharraf is history

August 19th, 2008 - 11:13 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 19 (IANS) As key ally Pervez Musharraf resigned as Pakistan president, Washington talked of strongly supporting the new democratic regime in Islamabad to continue its “war on terror”. President George Bush made no contact with Musharraf whom he had described previously as a “personal friend”.Bush has reiterated his commitment to a strong Pakistan that strengthens democracy and fights terrorism, while appreciating Musharraf’s efforts in the fight against terror and other extremist groups, the White House said Monday.

But Bush made no contact with Musharraf, whom he has described as a “personal friend” in the past, as the former military ruler who last year shed his army uniform at America’s behest resigned in the face of an impending impeachment motion by Pakistan’s ruling coalition.

“He has not (spoken with Musharraf) today, and we’ll keep you updated if that changes,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in Crawford, Texas, where Bush is at his ranch.

Nor was he aware if the US had been involved in any discussions about possible relocation for Musharraf outside Pakistan or if the ousted ruled could seek exile in the US, the spokesman said.

“I’m not aware of any discussions regarding that, so I don’t think it’s an issue that we have to take up,” Johndroe said.

“President Bush appreciates President Musharraf’s efforts in the democratic transition of Pakistan as well as his commitment to fighting Al Qaeda and extremist groups,” he said, adding: “He looks forward to working with the government of Pakistan on the economic, political and security challenges that they face”.

Asked if Musharraf’s resignation would not have an impact on the US war on terror, Johndroe recalled a “good meeting” Bush had with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani a couple of weeks ago in Washington and said: “We’re going to continue working with the government of Pakistan”.

“The Pakistanis realise that the threat of terrorism, the threat of extremism, is a threat to them, as well as the rest of the world,” he said. “So we’re confident that while we certainly all have more to do when it comes to fighting terrorism, the government of Pakistan will continue in the effort.”

Earlier in the first US reaction, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice too expressed strong support for the new democratic government of Pakistan as she expressed “our deep gratitude” to Musharraf, whom she described “as a friend to the US” and “one of the world’s most committed partners in the war against terrorism”.

“We strongly support the democratically elected civilian government in its desire to modernise Pakistan and build democratic institutions,” she said.

Striking a balance between a studiously hands off approach to the new Pakistani government’s move to impeach a key ally and the need to build bridges with the new government, Rice expressed “our deep gratitude” to Musharraf while vowing to “continue to work with the Pakistani government and its political leaders”.

But manifest in her statement was the US concern how the war on terror would shape up now that Musharraf is gone. “President Musharraf has been a friend to the United States and one of the world’s most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism,” she said.

Meanwhile, a leading US security expert, Karin von Hippel, said while Musharraf’s resignation signalled the end of a long and important relationship with the US, she was hopeful that it “will now evolve into a more positive relationship”.

“I am hopeful that it will now evolve into a more positive relationship, one in which the US government partners with the Pakistani people, rather than parts of the government (such as the military or the president),” said von Hippel, co-director, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project and senior fellow, Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

In an online chat with the readers of Washington Post, she did not think “it will change things that much” in the war on Islamic terrorists as “the Pakistani government is very aware of the enormous security problems it faces, and also that the terrorist threat is a national threat”.

Noting that Pakistanis have been targeted throughout the country, von Hippel said: “So I think cooperation will continue, but hopefully the new government will push for a more balanced approach, including governance reforms, education support, political reforms”.

A new president could help improve Islamabad’s relations with India, she said, noting tensions between the two have been on the rise since the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul and growing tensions in Kashmir. “So relations aren’t great between the two, but a new president could help turn things around too.”

But von Hippel did not think Musharraf’s departure would impact Pakistan’s relations with China, “as that relationship has survived political ups and downs in both countries in recent years. In addition, China is a big investor in Pakistan and that is unlikely to change.”

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