The NY Times reports:
In the six years since Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, joined President Bush in the fight against Al Qaeda, it has been an unlikely partnership: a president intent on promoting democracy and a military commander who seized power in a bloodless coup.
President Bush and Gen. Pervez Musharraf at the White House on Sept. 27, 2006.
Mr. Bush has repeatedly called Gen. Musharraf “a friend.” In 2003, the president invited the general to Camp David, a presidential perk reserved for the closest of allies. Last year, at the general’s insistence, Mr. Bush risked a trip to Pakistan, jangling the nerves of the Secret Service by spending the night in the country presumed to be home to Osama bin Laden.
But now that the general has defied the White House, suspending Pakistan’s Constitution and imposing martial law, old tensions are flaring anew. Mr. Bush is backing away from the leader he once called a man of “courage and vision,” and critics are asking whether the president misread his Pakistani counterpart.
They said Mr. Bush — an ardent believer in personal diplomacy, who once remarked that he had looked into the eyes of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and had gotten “a sense of his soul” — was taken in by the general, with his fluent English and his promises to hold elections and relinquish military power. They said Mr. Bush looked at General Musharraf and saw a democratic reformer when he should have seen a dictator instead.
“He didn’t ask the hard questions, and frankly, neither did the people working for him,” said Husain Haqqani, an expert on Pakistan at Boston University who has advised two previous Pakistani prime ministers, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. “They bought the P.R. image of Musharraf as the reasonable general. Bush bought the line — hook, line and sinker.”
White House aides said Mr. Bush is clear-eyed about his pact with the general, a pact that was sealed on a Saturday evening in November 2001, over an intimate dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. They had just met face-to-face for the first time, during a meeting of the United Nations, and, despite past tensions between their countries, an air of cozy familiarity filled the room.
“It was a lovely dinner, very sociable,” said Wendy J. Chamberlin, the former ambassador to Pakistan, who attended. “I wasn’t nervous, because I knew Musharraf and I knew how charming he is, and I could see that they would get along fine. And besides, the mood was exuberant. Musharraf was like a conquering hero, Musharraf had done the right thing. He was the man of the day.”
Today, of course, the general is hardly the man of the day. On Friday, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte — who was the host at the Waldorf dinner as the ambassador to the United Nations then — arrived in Pakistan to press General Musharraf to end Pakistan’s state of emergency. Back in Washington, Mr. Bush was close-mouthed, saying little about the man he once praised as “a courageous leader and friend of the United States.”
The two have spoken just once, on Nov. 7 by telephone, in the two weeks since General Musharraf imposed de facto military rule. Mr. Bush, who initiated the call, termed it “a very frank discussion” — Washington code for a pointed airing of differences.
“My message was very, very plain, very easy to understand,” the president said. “And that is: the United States wants you to have elections as scheduled and take your uniform off.”
The “Bush-Mush relationship,” as some American scholars call it, has always been complicated, more a bond of convenience than a genuine friendship, some experts said. When he was running for office in 2000, Mr. Bush didn’t even know General Musharraf’s name; he couldn’t identify the leader of Pakistan for a reporter’s pop quiz during an interview that was widely replayed on late-night television.
Relations between the nations had been tense over Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions even before Mr. Bush took office, and American aid to Pakistan had been all but cut off. But Sept. 11 threw the United States and Pakistan together. Mr. Bush demanded General Musharraf’s allegiance in pursuing Al Qaeda — and got it. General Musharraf demanded military aid that could help him maintain power — and got it.
Experts in United States-Pakistan relations said General Musharraf has played the union masterfully, by convincing Mr. Bush that he alone can keep Pakistan stable. Kamran Bokhari, an analyst for Stratfor, a private intelligence company, who met with General Musharraf in January, said the general views Mr. Bush with some condescension.
“Musharraf thinks that Bush has certain weaknesses that can be manipulated,” Mr. Bokhari said, adding, “I would say that President Musharraf doesn’t think highly of President Bush, but his interests force him to do business with the U.S. president.”
In his autobiography, “In the Line of Fire,” General Musharraf writes glowingly of the trust Mr. Bush placed in him. But he passed up a chance to praise Mr. Bush on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” where he was promoting the book. Mr. Stewart asked who would win a hypothetical contest for mayor of Karachi, Mr. Bush or Mr. bin Laden.
“I think they’ll both lose miserably,” the general replied.
Mr. Bush, by contrast, was “favorably impressed” with General Musharraf, according to Ari Fleischer, the president’s former press secretary. Mr. Fleischer recounted one session where the general had been warned in advance not to ask the president for F-16 fighter jets, because the answer would be no.
“Musharraf brought it up anyway,” Mr. Fleischer said, “and Bush told him the answer is no. But I think Bush liked the fact that he does what he wants to do, and says what’s on his mind.”
Their ties have not always helped General Musharraf; critics in Pakistan have accused him of being a tool of the United States, and derisively call him “Busharraf.” In Washington, Mr. Bush has faced criticism as well, from those who say he should have been tougher on General Musharraf, especially with top Al Qaeda operatives like Osama bin Laden still on the loose.
Richard C. Holbrooke, the ambassador to the United Nations under President Clinton, said one of Mr. Bush’s biggest mistakes was not pressing General Musharraf to turn over A. Q. Khan, the former chief of Pakistan’s nuclear program, to American interrogators.
“I don’t see that the Bush administration was wrong in 2001 to put its chips on Musharraf, who promised democracy and who promised to take off his uniform, but something has gone very badly wrong,” Mr. Holbrooke said, adding, “The question is, is this because Bush was soft on Musharraf the way he was soft on Putin?”
As the state of emergency drags on, the administration has begun thinking about alternatives to General Musharraf, and is reaching out to generals who might replace him. Mr. Haqqani, the Boston University professor, and Ms. Chamberlin, the former ambassador, said the effort was long overdue.
Mr. Haqqani has been cautioning the administration for years not to “personalize this relationship,” while Ms. Chamberlin said it is a mistake to view General Musharraf as indispensable. “Our relationship with the army and with the people of Pakistan is indispensable,” she said, “but it is not based on one man.”
Yet, having declared General Musharraf a friend and an ally, Mr. Bush is not ready to give up on him. The president places a high premium on loyalty; when top aides like Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, and Alberto R. Gonzales, the former attorney general, disappointed him, he was reluctant to cut them loose. So it is with General Musharraf.
“President Musharraf made a decision the president didn’t agree with,” said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary. “We are disappointed with it, but the president doesn’t want to pre-emptively throw up his hands. He wants to help him get back on track.”
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The NY Times reports: