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Bush calls to calm Mush

Washington, August 4
President Bush made a 35-minute phone call to Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf on Friday, offering comfort to a besieged dictator reeling as much from domestic political attacks as blunt military threats from US presidential candidates.

The White House offered no details of the call, but according to Pakistani officials, whose accounts may be self-serving, Bush told Musharraf that recent statements by US presidential candidates about possible American military strikes inside Pakistan were “unsavoury” and “often prompted by political considerations in an environment of electioneering.”

There has been a flurry of remarks in recent days from US officials, analysts, lawmakers and presidential candidates, suggesting direct military action inside Pakistan if it failed to address US concerns about terrorist hideouts and activity.

A formal foreign policy address by Democratic candidate Barack Obama promising this line of action should he be elected president touched off a firestorm with several leading lights of the establishment cautioning this was something to be done quietly, not discussed publicly.

In a statement relating to the phone call, the Pakistani foreign office said President Bush assured Musharraf “that the United States fully respected Pakistan’s sovereignty and appreciated Pakistan’s resolve in fighting Al-Qaida and other terrorist elements.’’

Musharraf also complained to Bush about recent legislation that tied aid US to Pakistan on its performance in the war on terror and Washington’s nuclear deal with India, reports said.

“The US president explained the background of the bill expressing the view that he did not foresee adverse impact of any of the Pakistan-specific provisions on the existing cooperation which was in the mutual interest of the two countries,’’ the Pakistani foreign office statement said, indicating Bush rejected the complaints.

It did not mention his response to the grievance about the US-India nuclear deal, which Islamabad has said will enable India to enhance its nuclear weapons program and spark an arms race in the region.

Pakistan’s dubious role in the war on terror has become the hot button issue in Washington ever since senior administration officials first suggested last month that the US has not taken the option of military strikes within Pakistan off the table.

Leading Democratic presidential candidates developed that possibility into more muscular positions on the campaign trail, arguing that the Bush administration was wrong in fighting a war in Iraq when Pakistan is actually the real haven for terrorists.

The statements are not very different from what administration officials themselves have spelt out more subtly.

The incendiary remark by long-shot Republican candidate Tom Tancredo, while generating more hysteria in Pakistan, galvanized the normally staid State Department into fury.

“It is absolutely outrageous and reprehensible for anyone to suggest attacks on holy sites, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish or those of any other religion,’’ spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

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