WASHINGTON – President Bush reaffirmed his confidence Tuesday in Pakistan's president as a strong ally in the war against extremists. "I like him and I appreciate him," Bush said in Cleveland. The president also called President Gen. Pervez Musharraf a partner in promoting democracy.
Bush's remarks followed an expression of approval by the State Department of Pakistan's decision to storm a mosque in Islamabad where militants were holding hostages.
Deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the militants had been given many warnings before the commandos moved on the sprawling Red Mosque compound before dawn.
"The government of Pakistan has proceeded in a responsible way," Casey said. "All governments have a responsibility to preserve order."
The White House reaction was subdued. Deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel said it was "an internal matter for the Pakistani government to address."
"What remains clear is, in places throughout the world the threat of extremists is real, but that operation is a matter for the Pakistani government," Stanzel said.
A few hours later, Bush gave his unqualified support to Musharraf as "a strong ally in the war against these extremists."
"I am, of course, constantly working with him to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Pakistan," Bush said.
The extremists had used the mosque as a base to dispatch radicalized students to enforce their version of Islamic morality. A radical cleric, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was killed after refusing to surrender, Pakistani officials said.
The incident coincided with a report issued by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that called for "the end of the army's quasi monopoly on every lever of power in the country."
The author, Frederic Grare, a visiting scholar at the private think tank, proposed "eliminating the army's interference not only in the politics and economics of Pakistan, but also in the country's judiciary and administration."
In the report, he said that of about $10 billion in U.S. assistance to Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States only $900 million had gone to development. The bulk of the assistance was channeled through the military, he said.
"The question is the extent to which this money has effectively increased U.S. and international security," the report said.
Joining Grare at a news conference, Mark L. Schneider of the International Crisis Group, a think tank based in Brussels, Belgium, faulted Musharraf's government for going after the al-Qaida terror network but not the Taliban, which has increased its attacks on U.S. and other NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Grare's report said 41 al-Qaida operatives had been arrested but very few Taliban leaders had been caught and that Pakistan had been unwilling to move decisively against Taliban decision-makers living in Quetta. The government also has not moved against major warlords or dismantled their terrorist infrastructure, he said.
The report called on Musharraf to cease violating Pakistan's constitution by holding both the position of president and chief of the army staff and hold free and fair elections for parliament under the supervision of international inspection.
Among the report's conclusions was that the army had inflated the threat of religious sectarianism and jihad extremism in Afghanistan and Kashmir for its own self-interest.