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US played role in decision reversal

August 10, 2007

WASHINGTON, Aug 9: The United States played a key role in steering President Pervez Musharraf away from declaring a state of emergency in Pakistan and the acknowledgement of this role came from no less a person than President George W. Bush himself who urged the Pakistani leader to focus on free and fair elections in his country.

“My focus in terms of the domestic scene there is that they have a free and fair election, and that's what we've been talking to him about and hopeful they will,” Mr Bush said at a White House news conference.

Meanwhile, the US State Department confirmed that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had telephoned President Musharraf and discussed Pakistan’s internal political situation.

“They talked about the ongoing political developments in Pakistan. They had a good conversation,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Diplomatic sources told Dawn that Ms Rice made two telephone calls; the first at 5 p.m. Washington time on Wednesday and the second on Thursday morning. Her conversation with President Musharraf focussed on the possible declaration of a state of emergency in Pakistan and the general’s refusal to attend a tribal jirga in Kabul, the sources said.

When asked if Ms Rice’s telephone call had influenced Gen Musharraf not to declare a state of emergency, Mr McCormack said: “I'll leave it to Pakistani officials to describe President Musharraf's thinking and how that thinking may have evolved.”

The spokesman said the US has an interest in a Pakistan “that is on the pathway to greater economic openness and freedom and reform, greater political openness and freedom.”

When informed that a Pakistani minister had confirmed, in an interview to a private television channel, that President Musharraf intends to declare a state of emergency, Mr McCormack said the minister had since “revised and extended his comments to say that there is no plan at this point to impose a state of emergency.”

At the White House, Mr Bush said he had seen media reports about an “emergency declaration” but he had “seen no evidence that he (President Musharraf) has made that decision.”

Mr Bush also indicated that the question of a possible US military strike at Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan came up for discussion when he telephoned President Musharraf on Aug 4.

“I have indicated to him that the American people would expect there to be swift action taken if there's actionable intelligence on high-value targets inside his country,” he said.

This statement signals a softening of attitude in Washington this issue which lately strained relations between the US and Pakistan.

In earlier statements, senior US officials had clearly said that if they had “actionable intelligence” about the presence of Al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan’s tribal territory, they will launch direct military strikes at those targets instead of waiting for Islamabad’s permission to do so.

“Now, I recognize Pakistan is a sovereign nation, and that's important for Americans to recognize that,” he said. “But it's also important for Americans to understand that he (Gen Musharraf) shares the same concern about radicals and extremists as I do and as the American people do.”

Mr Bush said that when he spoke with the Pakistani leader, he reminded him that “we share a common enemy,” extremists and radicals who would like to harm both the US and Pakistan.

“In his case, they would like to kill him, and they've tried,” Mr Bush added. “I have made it clear to him that I would expect there to be full cooperation in sharing intelligence, and I believe we've got good intelligence sharing,”