President Pervez Musharraf (file photo) (epa)
PRAGUE, September 22, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has accused Washington of threatening to bomb his country "back to the Stone Age" after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 unless Islamabad cooperated fully with the U.S. campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Musharraf made the remarks on an American news program just hours before today's talks at the White House with U.S. President George W. Bush.
Musharraf says the warning from Washington was delivered in 2001 by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage after the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Speaking in an interview to be aired on the CBS television program "60 Minutes" on September 24, Musharraf said a Pakistani intelligence officer told him Armitage told him to "be prepared to be bombed" and to "be prepared to go back to the Stone Age."
Musharraf calls the alleged remarks "very rude." But he says he decided to side with the United States against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda because it was in the best interests of his country.
The White House and State Department say they will not comment on a "reported conversation between Mr. Armitage and a Pakistani official."
Armitage told CNN television on September 21 that he never threatened to bomb Pakistan -- and that he had no authority to do so.
Armitage admitted he had a tough message for Pakistan after the September 11 attacks, telling that predominantly Muslim country -- a supporter of the Taliban regime at the time -- that it was either "with us or against us." But Armitage said the message appears to have been recounted differently to Musharraf.
Some Western analysts say the timing of the Pakistani president's revelation might be an attempt to generate interest in his new autobiography, "In The Line Of Fire," due to be released around the world next week.
But others say Musharraf is trying accomplish two goals of his own during his weeklong visit to the United States: Firstly, to deflect growing criticism in Western media and policy circles that Pakistan isn't doing enough against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. And secondly, to do so in a way that does not strengthen the political opposition in Pakistan, which complains that Musharraf is cooperating too much with the United States.
Those goals have been apparent in a series of speeches Musharraf has made this month to the European Parliament, the UN General Assembly, and to U.S. lawmakers:
"We don't want 'Talibanization' in Pakistan. We reject that," Musharraf said. "But nobody should, at the same time, blame us or doubt our intentions for not doing enough. Or cast aspersions that maybe the government or intelligence organizations are abetting in such activity."
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who wrote the book "Taliban," says many of Musharraf's recent public speeches have been aimed at deflecting criticism from Washington.
"What Musharraf is really trying to do is to throw dust in the eyes of everyone," Rashid said. "His re-emphasis, I think, on the Taliban is all in preparation for next week and a joint meeting with President Bush and [Afghan] President Hamid Karzai in which, clearly, the Americans are going to come down fairly hard on the support that the Taliban are getting in Pakistan and the need for Musharraf to do something about it."
Pressure At Home
Asim Sajjad, a political analyst and human rights activist in Islamabad, says Musharraf must convince the West that Islamabad is a loyal U.S. ally while, at the same time, placating Pakistanis who do not want Islamabad to put the goals of the United States ahead of their own interests.
"Quite rightly there is a great deal of resentment within Pakistan about the extent to which Musharraf has prioritized American strategic interests," Sajjad said. "And this goes all the way back to the post-September 11 scenario, when Musharraf got on TV [in Pakistan] and said: 'Well, what choice do we have?' That perception won't go away -- can't go away -- amongst the Pakistani public that our government has consistently been too friendly to the U.S. and too willing to do the U.S.' s dirty work."
On September 21, the U.S. State Department praised Islamabad's contributions to the war against terrorism -- saying that Pakistan has been a "steadfast partner" since it joined the United States in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.
But analysts conclude that Musharraf's latest allegations about threats from Armitage might lead many to question the means used by Washington to gain Pakistan's cooperation