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Bush cracks the whip
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

President George W. Bush on Wednesday personally informed Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf that he must fulfill his promise to hold parliamentary elections and give up his post as army chief.

“You can't be the President and the head of the military at the same time,” Bush said he told General Musharraf in a telephonic conversation. “I had a very frank discussion with him.”

The White House has come under fire for treating General Musharraf, an ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, with kid gloves. Bush was asked by a reporter why he had come down hard on the military junta in Burma and had yet given a pass to General Musharraf.

Addressing reporters along side French President Nicolas Sarkozy at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in Virginia, Bush said he had spoken to General Musharraf earlier in the day. “And my message was that we believe strongly in elections, and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform,” he said.

Bush said his “objective is the same in Burma as it is in Pakistan, and that is to promote democracy.” But he added: “There is a difference, however. Pakistan has been on the path to democracy; Burma hadn't been on the path to democracy. And it requires different tactics to achieve the common objective.”

Meanwhile, a senior Bush Administration official described General Musharraf as an “indispensable ally” but said Washington “strongly disagrees” with the crackdown in Pakistan.

Testifying before members of Congress on Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte said the Bush Administration “strongly advised against emergency rule, but Pakistan’s leadership did not follow our advice.”

“Many Pakistanis are skeptical of our stated commitment to a long-term partnership based on common democratic objectives, and this skepticism makes it difficult for our governments to focus on the fight against terrorism and progress toward a more democratic future for Pakistan,” Negroponte said. He added General Musharraf’s resignation as Army Chief would not in itself represent a full transition to civilian rule in Pakistan, but it would be a key important step in the right direction.

As his nation continues to be mired in turmoil, General Musharraf has been in touch with the Bush Administration as well as members of Congress.

Congressman Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, said General Musharraf had called him on Tuesday. “I find it noteworthy that in this time of crisis he’s seeking a dialogue with both the Administration and the Congress,” Lantos said.

Congressman Gary Ackerman, New York Democrat, urged the Bush Administration to stop delivery of any further F-16s to Pakistan and cut off all other U.S. assistance “until the state of emergency is lifted, the constitution is restored, the fired Supreme Court justices are reinstated, opposition politicians and civil society activists are released, independent media is allowed to re-open, a caretaker government is appointed to hold free and fair parliamentary elections, and General Musharraf steps down as Chief of the Army Staff.”

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