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Musharraf made the right call, let's focus on issues now: Obama

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | August 19, 2008 08:48 IST

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Senator Barack Obama [Images], the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has said that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf [Images] made the correct decision to resign and hopefully help end the political crisis that has gripped that country over the past few months.

In a statement made available to rediff.com, Obama, said, 'Musharraf has made the right decision to step down as President of Pakistan. It is in the interests of his country and the Pakistani people to end the political crisis that has immobilized the coalition government for too long.'

Obama pointed out, 'I have long said that the central terrorist threat to the United States lies in northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan, and not Iraq,' and argued that 'US policy must focus on assuring that all elements of Pakistan's government are resolute in shutting down the safe havens for Al Qaeda [Images] and the Taliban [Images].'

'There can be no safe haven for terrorists, who threaten the American people,' he said.

Obama recalled, 'A year ago, I advocated that the US move from a 'Musharraf policy' to a 'Pakistan policy,' and expressed the hope that 'all of Pakistan's friends will now seize the opportunity created by Musharraf's exit to focus on the urgent issues of today: confronting the threat of extremist violence, dealing with food and energy shortages, and helping the Pakistani people build a stable, secure, democratic future.'

Meanwhile, over at the White House, which was operating from Crawford, Texas, where President Bush is vacationing at this ranch, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "President Bush is committed to a strong Pakistan that continues its efforts to strengthen democracy and fight terror."

"President Bush appreciate President Musharraf's efforts in the democratic transition of Pakistan, as well as his commitment to fighting Al Qaeda and extremist groups," he said, and added, "President Bush looks forward to working with the government of Pakistan on the economic, political and security challenges that they face."

Asked if President Bush intends to speak with Musharraf at all about his resignation, and if there had been any contact between him and Musharraf or the Pakistani leadership, Johndroe said, "He has not today, and we'll keep you updated if that changes."

When he was asked how the resignation of a strong ally in the war on terror in the midst of an impeachment crisis and in a country not known for its smooth transfers of power cannot but have on the US prosecution of the war on terror, the NSC spokesman reiterated, "We are going to continue working with the government of Pakistan," and referred to Bush's meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [Images] last month at the White House.

"The Pakistanis realize that the threat of terrorism, the threat of extremism, is a threat to them, as well as the rest of the world," Johndroe said.

"So, the government of Pakistan, the prime minister, realizes that they need to go after terrorists and extremists because they are trying to destabilize the government of Pakistan as well. So, we are confident that while we certainly all have more to do when it comes to fighting terrorist, the government of Pakistan will continue in the effort."

When media persons persisted with the question on how focused Pakistan would be in the fight against terrorism in the wake of this upheaval, the spokesman said, "This is a transition that the people of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan made a decision, as well as President Musharraf made this decision to resign. These are issues that they are going to have to work through their political process."

"While this political process is underway, we certainly expect they will keep up their fight against terrorists and extremists because of what I just said -- this is a fight that they are in, as well," he said.

Johndroe referring to Gilani assurances while in Washington, said, "What he has said repeatedly is they understand that these extremists are going after the government of Pakistan. They are trying to destabilize Pakistan. And, so, it's not only a threat to the United States, Western Europe, and the whole free world, but it's a threat to Pakistan, as well. And, that's why we will all continue to work on going after the extremists."

He said the US would remain committed to Pakistan and to its people through aid, which is not only devoted to fighting extremists, but which is also devoted to helping improve education, health care and infrastructure."

When he was challenged that there is an overwhelming perception among Pakistanis that it was the relationship between Washington and Musharraf and a 'Musharraf policy' and not a 'Pakistan policy,' Johndroe testily argued, "Let's be clear: The extremist ideology is one that has been out there and among these groups for many years. They have an ideology of hatred and an ideology that doesn't allow little girls to go to school, and is not really an ideology known for its respect for human rights."

"So, let us be clear about where this started, and that's with the extremists," he asserted.

Johndroe continued to reiterate that "the people of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan know that this is a fight they are also in. Osama bin Laden, or Ayman al Zawahiri just a few days ago, I think, issued a video saying that they wanted to go after the government of Pakistan, as well."

"So, these extremists and terrorists groups are not limiting their fight to just the United States; it's Pakistanis, it's Muslims around the world, the thousands of Muslims they've killed since 9/111, as well as going after the United States and Western Europe. So, we're all in this together, and the people of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan know that," he said.

Asked, if it becomes necessary, whether Musharraf would be permitted to seek asylum in the US, Johndroe said, "I'm not aware of any discussions regarding that, so I don't think it's an issue we have to take up."

Johndroe even refused to confirm if Musharraf was still in Pakistan, saying, "I believe he's in Pakistan, but you should check with Pakistani officials on that. But I don't have any specific information or updates on his whereabouts."






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