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Bush Criticizes Emergency Rule in Pakistan

  • Michael Bowman

The White House says President Bush is deeply disturbed by Pakistan's suspension of constitutional rule, as well as subsequent actions taken by the government of President Pervez Musharraf. VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

Echoing condemnations of Pakistan's military ruler from around the world, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says the United States cannot support Pakistan's lurch to emergency rule, which she described as contrary to Pakistan's best interests and a setback to its march to democracy.

Perino says the United States is urging General Musharraf to restore civilian rule, restore press freedoms, and release detainees. She says elections scheduled for January should go forward as planned, and that Mr. Musharraf should, in her words, "take off his military uniform."

Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that all U.S. aid to Pakistan would be reviewed in light of recent developments, but noted that much U.S. assistance revolves around the war on terror -- a war President Bush remains committed to fighting.

Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says that review includes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of annual U.S. military aid to Pakistan. A big part of that aid is approximately $80 million per month of U.S. payments for Pakistani help with operations against the al-Qaida terrorist network along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"As far as I know, with respect to our border operations and our coordination on military operations, that continues," he said. "That said, the secretary (Rice) has stated that all our assistance programs are going to be reviewed, and I wouldn't want to speculate into the future."

Whitman says the Pentagon is looking at all its programs in the new context of emergency rule in Pakistan to determine what he called "the most appropriate way forward." He says the review includes the sale of 36 F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, approved last year. But Whitman also noted Pakistan's importance in the war on terrorism, and said the overall review of U.S. aid to the Musharraf government will be led by the State Department.

Since 2001, the United States has provided more than $10 billion in aid to Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation many experts list as a possible hiding place for terrorist mastermind Osama bin laden.

Last year, President Bush described General Musharraf as a strong defender of freedom and the people of Pakistan. White House spokeswoman Perino says Mr. Bush remains committed to promoting freedom and democracy around the world, but noted that transitions to democratic rule are always complicated.

In justifying his suspension of constitutional rule, the Pakistani leader compared his actions to those of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln during America's civil war. Perino declined to comment on the comparison.

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