U.S. ambassador heaps praise on Musharraf
By CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan has offered firm support for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying that he enjoyed a tight grip on power and that his military remained loyal to him.
"I think that President Musharraf is probably in a stronger position today than he has been in the past," Amb. Wendy Chamberlin said.
Pakistan has become a central partner in the US coalition against Afghanistan, and the Bush administration has gone to great lengths to support Musharaff, whose stability was questioned after his public siding with the U.S. campaign against Afghanistan.
Chamberlin, who was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan in August, pointed to a number of "definitive measures" Musharraf has taken to prevent violence and avoid a backlash by Islamic extremists against his policy of supporting the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, including cracking down on domestic terrorist groups in the country and banning hate speech.
The ambassador said that although the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus have had links to the Taliban in the past, Musharraf has "retired" those who could still support the Taliban and threaten Musharraf's regime.
"We see the Pakistani military as professional and loyal," Chamberlin said.
Although Musharraf has said publicly that he would like to see the U.S. bombing against Afghanistan end before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Chamberlin said his comments "in no way reflect his commitment to support the coalition has diminished in any way."
"He has never in any way expressed anything but full support," Chamberlin said. "We agree this effort to go after terrorism out to continue in full until the objective is achieved."
Chamberlin praised Musharraf for supporting the U.S. coalition in an effort to root out terrorism from his own country.
"Pakistan is a victim too," she said.
Chamberlin said that the US was committing $73 million to help the country with law enforcement and border security in an effort to root out terrorism, crime and smuggling along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, which currently serves as a transit points for people and goods for Taliban forces.
She also said that despite the fact Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, the president remained "very much committed" to following a roadmap to democracy, with parliamentary elections next October and presidential elections after that.
Her comments came on the eve of a meeting between President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan are under pressure by the administration to continue dialogue between the parties on the disputed territory of Kashmir, where tensions continue to mount.
Chamberlin declined to say whether the U.S. planned on taking on a greater mediating role on the issue.
She also would not address U.S. concerns on the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and the possibility that the country's nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists that might want to hurt the U.S. or India.
"I am not losing any sleep over it," she said.
On Thursday, Pakistan announced the closure of the Taliban consulate in Karachi. Pakistan is the only country which continues to have diplomatic relations with the Taliban, but Chamberlin said she believes the relationship could be useful to address issues, such as the fate of American detainees being held by the Taliban in Kabul.
"My advice was it is of some utility to have one place in the world with Taliban representative," she said.
Chamberlin also addressed the death of Abdul Haq, an Afghan opposition leader who was killed last month by the Taliban when he entered Afganistan from Pakistan on a mission to foment opposition to the Taliban.
The ambassador said that Haq "didn't have tribal support," and should have entered the country in an area where he could have been protected, rather than "hostile territory."
But she dismissed reports that the Pakistani Intelligence Service (I.S.I.) was involved in tipping the Taliban off to Haq's arrival.
"I seen nothing to indicate the I.S.I. had anything to do with his death," she said. "Not a shred of evidence."
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